After leaving Battles, Tyondai Braxton focused on more rarefied projects: Central Market was an ambitious orchestral work, while its follow-up HIVE1 debuted as an installation at the Guggenheim Museum. However, these delightfully mercurial pieces -- which were composed for two modular synthesizers and three percussionists -- often make both Central Market and Braxton's work with Battles feel downright mainstream. The way he plays with and contrasts circuits and wood harks back to his early days as a composer, as well as the early days of electronic music: "K2"'s alien field recordings recall Louis & Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet score, while "Gracka"'s arpeggios and layers of percussion suggest an exploded version of Raymond Scott's Soothing Sounds for Baby pieces, right down to the way certain passages sound like a marching cadence for army ants. Indeed, HIVE1 is just as conceptual in its own way as Central Market, which riffed on 2008's stock market collapse as well as Stravinsky's Petrushka. Its busy, buzzing synths and the way its song cells form into a greater whole vividly call to mind cross sections of an insectoid culture at work, and Braxton's approach is just as intricate. For most of the album, he revels in variation and exploration rather than climactic statements: even though the beats on "Boids" eventually tower like redwoods, it's the woodpecker-like call-and-response rattles that anchor the piece. Similarly, he finds a complementary balance between the longer and shorter pieces, with vignettes like the spring-loaded "Studio Mariacha" and droning "Galaveda" setting the stage for "Scout1," which moves from aggressive to regal and back again in a way that feels like a microcosm of Central Market's grand sweep. Here and throughout HIVE1, there's an audacious sense of movement and whimsy, perhaps best embodied by "Amlochley," where flitting synths and itchy percussion briefly coalesce into dance music before scattering once more. Though this is some of Braxton's most abstract music, it might be the purest expression of his cerebral playfulness yet.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares