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CD REVIEW: M. - In Absentia
By Alex Jasperse - 03/23/2008 - 03:01 PM EDT

Artist: M.
Album: In Absentia [2007]
Label: Pencilled Songs
Genre: Experimental
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9.0/10
Songwriting Skills: 9.0/10
Performance Skill: 9.0/10
CD Review:

Can a question become ‘lost’ if it’s subjected to endless amounts of repetition without response? Considering that so many artists ask the same questions, and offer the same answers revolving around a handful of themes, has our natural curiosity to dig deeper in the world of music and song-writing been sedated by sameness?

M. lives for questions. Whether it’s his take on society, his chameleon-like genre-switching talents, or the way in which his album is presented, M. is the antithesis to all things monotonous. Nothing has been predigested for the listener, and with his latest release, In Absentia, M.’s evocative mixture of intense spoken poetry and singing beautifully works hand-in-hand with everything from metal-inspired rages to dreamy minimalist soundscapes.

Exploring a number of questions on the concept of self-identity, M.’s warm vocals waste no time in “Intro: Morning Star” to see if the listener is ‘really’ there. A barrage of questions keep coming, challenging and offering ideas left and right over gentle, slow-moving strings. Information overload it is not, because the stark contrast that follows in “Xenophobia 88” suddenly brings thrash and punk-inspired riffage to the table, while simultaneously deconstructing complex social and psychological issues surrounding race perceptions. If the Bob Dylan lyrical wake isn’t enough to leave you trying to sort out all the hidden messages and questions for days on end, then the sudden narrative perspective shift may just do it. Traversing the social spectrum within seconds, “NYC B” suddenly follows the very-believable life story of a boy caught in a Catch 22 as he tries to shed the weight of negative stereotypes. However, instead of presenting yet another “woe is me” open and shut case, M. creates a fascinating dynamic wherein the concept of ‘success’ is equally weighed in both large and small achievements.

The beauty of M.’s work lies in the almost inseparable and intimate relationship between the lyrical imagery and the music itself. Unlike many other artists whose lyrics could easily be retrofitted over almost any other piece of music, the strength of M.’s evocative brilliance is derived from the simple fact that each musical element works together to achieve maximum effect. Demonstrated through pieces like the acoustic-led “17” and the eerie soundscapes of “Blind Dog,” M.’s work captures the listener, involving them in an experience that is the sum of two very powerful musical parts.

M.’s unrelenting gift for ear-twisting melodies is showcased once again in pieces like “Alien.” Tickling your ears for a moment, “Alien” is – in some respects – a continuation of “Xenophobia 88,” calling forth a melancholic organ that flourishes into a punk-inspired distorted guitar fury. But it’s only a benchmark, as M. goes on to out do himself in the Latin-flavoured “Carnaval,” decorated in trumpet calls, shifting drum passages, police sirens and M.’s own Spanish vocals.

While partly his neurotic charm, what characterizes M.’s work is the simple fact that one song doesn’t always mean ‘one’ song. “Yr. 2001,” for instance, not only strikes with a towering force, but within the time pressures of no more than three minutes, M. effectively makes it feel as though there are multiple of songs within one – a feat that often takes most progressive rock groups upwards of ten minutes to often achieve.

In Absentia is aural stimulation of the best kind. Not only is it challenging and provoking, it is a rare album that will – no matter what – leave a lasting mark on the way you think about the power of music. So back to the ultimate question: can a question become lost if it’s subjected to endless repetition? According to M., yes, it can… on a regular basis, in fact. M.’s impeccable ability to reach beyond all things familiar and safe reveals a new dimension of creativity and curiosity waiting to be tapped into. And thankfully, M.’s gotten to it first.

The Verdict: 9.0/10

For more information, please visit M.'s official website.

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