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Giving Machines

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Album Review

The name of Giving Machines' final track is "In Memory of Honey," and it's a perfectly poetic description of Japancakes' sound: nostalgic, slow-flowing, and intensely sweet. In Japancakes' world, it's usually warm and nearly always sunset, with amber-hued melodies stretching out over the horizon. Giving Machines offers more of Japancakes' unabashedly pretty, pedal steel-driven twilight instrumentals (they really should consider writing a song called "Friscalating Dusklight"), and as usual, it's equally satisfying to let their beauty wash over you, or trace the songs' changes as they roll along. The album opens with the gradual slopes and arcs of "Doublejointed," which swings from flute-like synths to lush strings to that syrupy pedal steel so gracefully that it never drags once during its seven minutes. It's followed by "Lalita," a beautifully developed mood study that isn't as epic as what came before, but shows just how masterfully Japancakes use depth in their music, whether it's on a grand or intimate scale. A handful of Giving Machines' songs feel meandering instead of hypnotic, such as the slow-motion psychedelia of "Somersault," though its dramatic climax saves it from being aural wallpaper at the very last moment. While this album isn't quite as adventurous as some of Japancakes' previous work, it does have some impressive moments, especially toward the end. "Tracing New Maps" chucks conventional musical geography aside, pairing a lilting string melody from the Far East with a tick-tocking bassline and drawling pedal steel from the Wild West; "Recovering Australia" manages to be balmy, languid, and somber all at once. Japancakes' playful side also gets its due on their cover of the Cocteau Twins' "Heaven or Las Vegas," which gives the dream pop classic a bit of a twang and a wink without getting too cutesy. Making music this distinctively serene — while avoiding boredom — is no small feat. Though Japancakes rarely change their approach much from album to album, it's hard to fault them for not attempting to fix what isn't broken on Giving Machines.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Improvisational drone-pop orchestra Japancakes was the brainchild of Athens, GA-based musician Eric Berg, who in 1997 had the idea of organizing a group of ten musicians to take the stage without any previous rehearsals all for the sake of playing a single "D" chord for 45 minutes. Fascinated by the subtle changes and imperfections which textured the performance, Berg began mounting other experiments within a similar conceptual framework; although the onstage lineup often expanded to as many as a...
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Giving Machines, Japancakes
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