Reference to Difference

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Ken Ishii tries out one of his aliases and ends up doing something with it that's both different and surprisingly tame. More than most electronic albums, the track order seems to make an impact; one that creates a noticeable arc over the course of an hour. Although Reference to Difference starts out in a more ambient realm for Ishii; it still makes room for his trademark dissonance that ebbs and flows throughout several tracks. The percussion is usually busy enough (his drum tracks once again prefer mechanization to any sort of groove), but on this album the beats rarely overtake the pieces; they just click, tick, and gurgle in the background. Curiously, as the drums avoid center stage, so do most of these songs. The album never leaps out and takes a hold of the listener, making it easier to tune out from time to time. Even the busy nature of tracks like "Non Essentia" end up sounding like the inner workings of a machine you don't need (thus, an aptly titled song). As the album progresses and the dynamics escalate from track to track, we reach "Interjection," the energetic high-point, personified by a much more urgent stab of drums and arpeggiated sequencers. From here, the final third of the album takes on a recognizable tone heard elsewhere, like on his albums Innerelements or Jelly Tones. Western ears may once again strain to imagine Flare or most Ken Ishii at the local dancehall, but he is no less influential. With Reference to Difference, however, he is less engaging.

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