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Realistic: Perpetual Memory Loss - Reviews

Though he shares a label with fellow sample-collage freaks Girl Talk and Oh Astro, Realistic (aka James Towning) has more in common with the Avalanches. Using bits of existing songs and found sounds—sometimes just a sliver, other times a greedy mouthful—Realistic joins the pieces like stained glass, stippling the edges with rhythmic shades, then bending and stretching the combinations into weird new shapes that would resemble traditional pop forms if they didn’t keep falling apart and reassembling. This is psychedelia done right, and for modern ears. “Music in the Round” kabobs a wavering women’s choir, ukulele and a disappearing hip-hop beat, resulting in a song as innocently spooky as a jack-o-lantern. Electronic musicians too often limit themselves to either danceability or esoteric experimentation. Realistic succeeds at both, often in the same song.
Kris Kendall - Resonance Magazine

Realistic’s catchy broken-beat sample-scapes could almost have been the bread and butter of a label like Ninja Tune in the late ‘90s. But whereas previous greats like Coldcut and Amon Tobin were certainly adept sample-manipulators, their focus was always on creating an atmosphere and groove, while labels like Illegal Art are part of a tradition focused on more blatant pop cultural appropriation and recontextualization. Girl Talk still rests firmly in that territory, however popular these days, but Realistic, with tracks like “Conversation Hearts” gliding and skipping with the finesse of a lost breakbeat classic (or even a refinement of sampling innovators like Art of Noise) forms a kind of missing link. But for every briskly evolving “Library Music” or “Welcome to Heaven”, there’s a “Brand Name Sunday”, a track that jitters through too many slightly ill-fitted motifs and fails to really cohere, intriguing but ultimately frustrating. Those bits, sounding at times more like musique concrète sound-collaging, arguably tether the album more firmly to its plunderphonic roots and their grooveless roaming is probably not entirely unintentional, but they can still be more science experiment than song. There’s nothing wrong with such experiments—virtually the entire Negativland catalog falls into this category—but Realistic, by seemingly shooting for songs, set for themselves a tougher task. Perhaps appreciation is all in interpretation, but it’s unclear at this point whether Realistic should be evaluated as reconstituted faux-pop or the real thing.
Nate Dorr -

Like the American Express card, James "Realistic" Towning never leaves his house without his audio recorder, with which he pulls in the audio landscapes of the New York streets. Already an established figure in the electronic music scene, Realistic has released several records already on Seedland Records, home to experimental heavyweights Negativeland. Realistic's music is a collage of nostalgic sounds from the 70's and 80's, computer based editing/sampling, technopop and rock music which has influenced him throughout the years. Realistic’s latest offering Memory Loss which is an auditory massacre of found sound, comes out October 16th on the Illegal Art label, on which he’s also released his last three albums.
Paul Glanting - URB Magazine

There is a lovely irony in Realistic’s use of a sample of the German folk song, “All Things Shall Perish,” in “Music in the Round,” the second song from his most recent album, Perpetual Memory Loss. For those unfamiliar with the folk song in question, the lyrics are quick but lovely:

All things shall perish from under the sky.
Music alone shall live. Music alone shall live.
Music alone shall live, never to die.

Of course the irony is due to Realistic’s (aka James Towning) being a sound collage artist. Amidst hoards of screaming record label executives who are tossing around lawsuits like pocket lint for anyone who dares share a record over the Internet, and finding ways to oppose the appropriation of recorded material for valid artistic means (just ask Trent Reznor) on the grounds that both acts ‘cheapen music’ and are ‘destroying the industry,’ it’s nice to hear the calm, clear voice of reason bathing in the thick beats and otherwise patched together composition that is “Music in the Round.” As the song progresses, and ultimately returns to its folk song sample, it becomes clear that the sample is pulled from some sort of archival and perhaps instructional folk record that refers to the sampled song as “Music Shall Live,” (not the traditional “All Things Shall Perish”) and describes how to sing in a round. The end result is a lovely song full of interesting dynamics and shifting ideas that characterize the album’s stronger moments. But let’s move beyond clever samples and the politics of collage art for just a moment to explore the album in a bit more depth.

“Brand Name Sunday,” another stand out track from Perpetual Memory Loss, mixes a slick mellow rock groove with kitschy spy movie strings, presenting itself as a giant ball of collective unconscious, retro kitsch -- the kind that can’t be instantly associated with a particular artist or text, but that taps into cultural memory to explore general tones and feelings. The same strategy works exceptionally well on the haunting “There is Always More.” Like “Music in the Round,” “There is Always More” builds off of an obscure vocal melody, only this time, the sample that introduces this song is buried deeper in the mix and drips with echo -- it plays like a church hymn, ringing quietly throughout the collage, struggling to be heard beneath layers of beats and other electronic textures. Like the aforementioned songs, “There is Always More” succeeds by tapping into a general mood -- a sense of unidentifiable familiarity -- that we are comfortable with, despite our inability to firmly categorize it.

Perpetual Memory Loss may not be as immediately accessible as the sample heavy mash up artists like Girl Talk, or as subversive as the straight up plunderphonics of John Oswald. What Realistic offers, however, is a straightforward imagining of how the subversive techniques and mash up approach can be used in a less politicized fashion. The simple act of using familiar songs in a sound collage immediately raises questions and risks about fair use, and who might sue. It’s unlikely that anything Towning has sampled here will stir up any controversy, and that’s okay. What we have is a collage that taps into our cultural consciousness without tipping its hand and making us connect with familiar texts. Perpetual Memory Loss is more about creating and sustaining moods and memories than it is about challenging notions of copyright, or trying to build something ironic out of disparate texts. Not every song works as well as it might, but regardless, Perpetual Memory Loss is a fine and challenging album.
James Brubaker -