CHRIS BOCAST / MJ CATALIN – Stratagem
Chris Bocast moved to Madison about a year ago from Woodland Park, Colorado, where he ran Ascendant Studios. Prior to locating in Colorado, he lived in San Francisco where he played in various bands (including Tokyo Vogue) but most notably landed a touring spot as the bassist for the Mission U.K. It was at Ascendant where he crafted his first solo album Through the Airlock in 2003. Part of Stratagem was also recorded at Ascendant but it’s the international collaboration with Romanian percussionist MJ Catalin that makes this project unique. Caitlin contacted Bocast in 2006 after sampling some of his music on iSound. After deciding to collaborate they traded tracks back and forth, with Catalin recording his parts at Matchbox Studios in Bucharest. It’s obvious that these two are seasoned studio producers as the aural landscape they have created here is lush and dramatic.
Stratagem is all instrumental. It’s not your typical brand of ambient music, however because frequently Bocast’s guitar parts dominate. He specializes in his use of e-bow, creating landscapes of sound that flow over the complex rhythm tracks that Catalin layers underneath. The music is melody-centric with the compositions having a melodic theme rather than a central tone. Drone music this is definitely not.
The duo leaves plenty of breathing space however, and “Song of the Dodo” is a prime example of this. The effects are stunning with long reverb decays on the drums. It’s an awesome mix and actually features a rare Moog solo from Bocast. Album opener “To Cross the Sea of Clouds” is another highlight, with waves of electronic pop that crescendos with a satisfying e-bow statement. At eight minutes this is the longest track on the album. The other lengthier track, “The Hidden Face of Eva” is a standout as well. Here Bocast’s shimmering guitar takes on glass-like tones.
“Detector” features the only guest on the album, Dave Shul (guitarist for Michael Franti and Spearhead). The track is immediately more edgy, giving the false impression of something more exciting to come. And this may be the album’s one fault; there is constant anticipation that someone will step out and make a bold statement but it never really arrives. Instead the pair plays it a bit safe, leaving the music to swirl in its own themes. Since the compositions are so melodic it may be a natural tendency to look for a little more departure in what at times becomes overly repetitive refrains.
Nonetheless, Stratagem has a natural feel and is quite an accomplishment for two accomplished artists with so much physical space between them. The recording bears repeated listening and its lavish but unpretentious production should inspire the next generation of studio wizards. To have Bocast in Madison now is a unique opportunity to collaborate for those of you paying attention.