In Rotation

In the Mix is a monthly column of reviews of albums by local musical artists. To submit an album for review consideration, send a physical copy to Brad Bynum, Reno News & Review, 708 N. Center St., Reno NV 89501 or a digital link to bradb@newsreview.com.

Most people can put some music on in the background and then tune it out. But for music nerds, people who listen to even the most mundane and routine pieces of music with the rapt, wide-eyed attention, this is a serious challenge—a division of attention. For obsessive music fans, it can be difficult to listen to music while performing other tasks, like driving a car or eating a burrito or even having sex. It can be too distracting for the feeble mind to focus on two things at once. And during complex tasks that require a high degree of mental engagement—like writing, for example—listening to music is impossible.

Usually … there are exceptions, pieces of music that, rather than competing for attention, manage to somehow engage alongside intellectual and creative processes, soundtracking them. Music that makes the mind, while writing or painting or cooking or doing a crossword puzzle, feel a steady progression toward some goal, as though in a movie montage depicting some rapid improvement. Rather than distracting you, it actually seems to make you better at whatever you’re doing.

To be effective in this regard, the music is almost always wholly instrumental, with a high degree of rhythmic repetition and literal harmonic progressions. The music of minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich is great in this way. Brian Eno has explored this idea off and on throughout his career. And certain electronic artists, like, say, Autechre, pull it off nicely.

And on the album Automatic, Next Door Ninja, the nom de Pro Tools of Hector Urtubia, also a member of the Schizopolitans, gets it right. It’s electronic music that moves in an introspective, meditative direction, along steady but interesting rhythms, building big movements with small melodic pieces. Some songs are better than others, of course, but with the best tracks, like “Cell Theory,” a track that evokes the Chicago post-rockers Tortoise, listening to it activates some brain center that, however briefly, makes you feel smarter.

Scholars for generations to come will argue the differences between metal and hardcore, and the various cross-pollinations between them. Drag Me Under takes the moods and heavy riffs of metal, and the no-holds-barred energy of hardcore, but without the meathead attitude that mars much of so-called “metalcore.” Nor is it a speed-mongering thrash band. Some of the band’s most effective stuff is in the slower, swampier riffs, as in “Shameful and the Shameless,” a song with a tense build-up to the chorus and then, more uniquely, a tense build-out to the end. Lead vocalist Maurice Harold has an effective, tell-it-like-it-is shout, but the group wisely mixes it up with occasional vocals from other members and, perhaps most effectively, mob chants.