Roger Sellers must have grown up near a train track. His music, under the artist name Bayonne, uses repeating patterns, some that are wonderfully engaging and others that make you think of a boxcar on its way to the grain elevator. Click-click-clickety-click is about all you get, which works in some ways as a background track to life but in other ways makes you think he took a few shortcuts in Pro Tools, namely the one that says “repeat loop” about 20 times in a row.
Electronic music is easy to make – fire up an app, and get your blips on – but really hard to make in a way that’s compelling. You hear signs of greatness on the opening track, which rumbles in slowly with a low-register voice-over. Throughout the album, his debut, there are moments – call them computerized epiphanies – and sweet analog accents, often working as a counterpoint to the programming effort involved. As an example, the song “Waves” could have been so much more. I like it – it uses a transportive technique with staccato piano and what sounds like a cello. The drums have an earthy quality. But then you realize, hey – what the fudge? I’m hearing the same thing over and over. I need some Aspirin. It’s one of the reasons other synth bands play live drums. Electronic music edges ever so slowly toward nausea, a tendency to turn music into math. The best artists fight this with loving restraint. Bayonne is close to the mark, but there might be a few times when you reach for the volume and just say “enough” with the looping.
Then there are times when it does work, as on the song “Spectrolite” with a heavier emphasis on analog instruments. On “Omar” he slows down the beat, a way to make the train clicks less obvious. At times, I felt a bit cheated. On “Appeals” you hear a piano part that seems like the speed dial was turned up a bit too much. There’s a special effects term known as the “uncanny valley” where you can look at an image and, if it looks just slightly computerized, your mind tricks you, and you know it is not real. Bayonne seems to do that at times. The piano seems too digital, too programmed, and not convincing, especially when you can hear it so many times in a row.
But about those epiphanies: They are often brilliant. On the song “Marim” I was listening in the car with the navigation system set to a destination. When the voice came on and told me I was “on the fastest path and my path was clear” I almost felt like Rogers should have included that sample. It just worked. A soft breeze flowing through a window, me and Google Maps.
Sadly, I have not idea what he’s singing about. It’s a bit obscure and hard to discern. I feel like some songs, especially “Marin” and others like it, rely too much on staccato drums and don’t use enough fills. There could have been more vocal segues. I didn’t feel compelled to listen closely to figure out the lyrics, something about changing minds or loose change (or both). Because you are pummelled into submission by the loops, you get a little weary of listening.
When “Marim” finally stops with all of the patterning and smattering, it bleeds out with rippling water and screeches, something you could say was added on at the end or was always meant to exist – it was just the patterns that had to be expelled first. Actually, just about every song ends this way, which is a little weird. At least Bayonne sticks to the pattern.