Rian Treanor and Ocen James : Saccades | Album review

Rian Treanor and Ocen James : Saccades | Album review

The thrill of musical collaboration lives in the uncertainty and potential that springs from the genesis of people engaged in trying to find a common language between two separate means of creation. But there’s another, equally thrilling moment that occurs when two artists of different backgrounds and different ways of working start to turn that tiny spark into a flame. You can hear that moment come alive on “Agoya,” the fourth song on Saccades, the debut full-length collaboration between Rian Treanor and Ocen James. The sputter of Treanor’s intricate beats and the melancholy tone of James’ violin become engaged in a graceful, high-energy dance, working together as a fluid whole of both beauty and urgency.

There are many such moments on Saccades, a project defined by unlikely harmony from disparate disciplines and tonal palettes. British-born Treanor’s body of work is largely in the frantic BPMs of IDM and footwork, a spiritual descendant of early Warp Records sounds and a literal descendant of producer Mark Fell, his father. Ugandan musician Ocen James plays the rigi rigi, a one-string violin, which forms the melodic basis of most of the album’s 10 tracks, though just as often is put to use in the service of harmonic clangs or dissonant shrieks. A work of two unmistakable talents, it’s often where the lines blur and the frequencies overlap that Saccades is at its most compelling.

Moments like the sprightly “Rigi Rigi” are a kind of proof of concept for Treanor and James’ conceptual pairing; James’ title instrument is the focal point, bouncing and ricocheting off of Treanor’s skipping rhythms, the rare moment on record that’s fairly straightforward in nature. The same could potentially be said about “The Dead Centre,” in which James becomes layered over himself in an overlapping exercise in looping and harmonization with oneself, eventually descending into a more sinister form of ambient music defined by the vibration of cymbals and low, metallic tones—more Nurse With Wound than Aphex Twin. And the stark plucks of “Memory Pressure” carry an eerie subtlety, the suggestion of a specter just beyond the frame of vision.

As a beatmaker, Treanor often leans toward the frantic and the adrenalized, which frequently results in something as ecstatic and fun as leadoff track “Bunga Bule,” a giddy moment of inspiration in which the textures and tones of programmed drums and sounds wrought from James’ instrument become harder to distinguish from one another. A similar effect can be heard on “Naassacade,” the percussive twinkle of which feels more aligned someone like Four Tet, an artist whose work is bound by spiritually like-minded textural contrasts. As much as James’ violin feels like a more human anchor to these wildly unpredictable compositions, Treanor takes a special pleasure in capturing its strangest and least immediately pleasant sounds on “Tiyo Ki,” wherein some of the most discordant pieces are built up into an unlikely breathtaking whole, grounded in part by the subtle presence of Angelo Badalamenti-like synth drone.

Though the same can be said of many of the tangled abstract techno and IDM influences that Treanor’s production sometimes nods toward, Saccades is an electronic album that’s meant for close, headphone listening as much as it is physical response. James’ performances and the different shapes his rigi rigi takes tend to lead down surprising paths and take on unfamiliar forms. Though the musicality of it is undeniable, Saccades reveals itself slowly through movements and permutations that gradually find its disparate elements converging in abrasive yet inspired harmony.

Label: Nyege Nyege Tapes

Year: 2023

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Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He’s been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he’s forgetting right now. He’s still not tired of it.