Lo-fi rock was not so much a musical style as it was the way bands, without money, recording contracts or technical skills, put their music on wax. These records, as well as the groundbreaking music within them, were as startling and inspiring as any independent rock at the time. The mistakes, weird bits, and imperfections on these albums made people love them even more. It showed would-be musicians everywhere that they could make music despite not having a record deal or access to lots of studio time. Nowadays, lo-fi is more often referred to as a genre rather then a comment on the recording quality. History At Our Disposal, which is led by singer/songwriter Jason Reimer, is one of these groups that could fit under the lo-fi banner. The bulk of the band’s new album, Symbols In The Architecture, is pieced together from hundreds of mini-cds, four track tapes and mini cassettes organized into a cohesive package of sound. The result is the untouched, exciting and introspective sounds that the genre requires.
The album captures many of the highlights of lo-fi recordings of the past. Jason Reimer whispers into the microphone with quiet beauty, as if his mother might burst into the room to tell him to stop being so loud. For the listener, this is alternatively charming or bothersome, depending on your set of ears. I respect the lo-fi tradition but couldn’t he at least buy a decent microphone? Still, in songs like the dark and gloomy, “Long Sips of Salt”, Reimer’s un-distinguishable vocals add to the track and give it more power then if we were to hear him blathering about the government, relationships or his own personal sanity. In a way, his are not vocals but rather another instrument blended into the composition. Then again, on songs like “Nature of Orienation”, Reimer croons a melody whose words you you want to hear but can’t. All he gives you is a Cobain-esque mumble or an Enigk-esque heart wrenching delivery, both of which will leave you scrambling to the lyrics in the liner notes. Once you are there you find that Reimar does have some interesting Orwellian ideas to share, but it takes an extra effort to find them out.
The majority of the music is from odds and ends he discovered in his collection of tapes. As such, there are a few ideas that should have been discarded. For example, take the track, “The Black Forest”. This is a meandering repetition of an okay 30-second idea which is stretched out into an unnecessary two minutes. The same can be said of “Bed of Leaves”, which is only saved by Reimer’s clever and uncharacteristically discernible lyrics. The bulk of these experimental ideas come across as just that, “ideas”, and not all ideas, as we know, are good ones.
But like all experiments, there are some successes as well. When the planets align for Reimer and company, as they do on “Spoiler of Spoils”, “Valedictorian #1” and “Before Your Born”, there really is something to stand up for and applaud. “Valedictorian #1” is similar in taste to his other experimental tracks, but on this particular one he gets it right. It is a hauntingly beautiful, simple but effective track. Songs like these show his talent and effectiveness as not only a lo-fi musician, but also as a film scorer. Although the album only manages this feat in two to three minute long spates, Reimer at full power and with a great idea can transport you somewhere wonderful, awe-inspiring and perhaps a little scary.