The Rip Off Artist 

New Clear Days

You can count on two hands the number of excellent wacky/whimsical electronic musicians: Señor Coconut, Mr. Scruff, and Stock, Hausen & Walkmen immediately spring to mind. So does America's foremost levity-inducing laptopper, Matt Haines, aka the Rip Off Artist. To make people laugh strictly through sounds you generate is a laudable skill few possess. That Haines also happens to be one of the funkiest dudes staring into a PowerBook makes his music the unfettered joy it is.

Like all of Haines' albums, this one steals its title from somebody else's record, in this case the Vapors' 1980 LP with the band's lone hit, "Turning Japanese." The Rip Off Artist's New Clear Days is a concept album about nuclear power, inasmuch as an abstract instrumental electronica opus can address such a complex concept. Divided into the sections "Protons," "Neutrons," and "Electrons," the disc often sounds like a science project gone awry, especially in the "Protons" segment: Imagine Kraftwerk's electro blueprint Computer World sabotaged by the Sasser worm. "Neutrons" represents the serious portion of the program, all miniaturist tone sketches dabbed with very fine paintbrushes, emanating a pleasantly disturbing mad-scientist ambience. Things turn ominous during the "Electrons" section, as Haines creates electro-funk seemingly stricken by arthritis. The music sounds all the better for its struggle to overcome rhythmic stiffness -- Haines' weird science is both stupefying and edifying.

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