Hippopotamus by Belp

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Munich-born artist Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer, otherwise known as Belp, has just yesterday released Hippopotamus on SVS Records (LP/DL). Ten tracks that run over a half hour combine warped space synths, beats and minor African overtones. That can all be detected from side one, track one, Travelling thru Galaxies. Beats and spoken word blend well with lava-light electronics and jazz cymbalism. The wryly titled Potential Noise starts with an asymmetrical off-center drumbeat and a percussive ticking alongside a colorful arrangement – but barely makes a racket. It’s quasi dubstep but takes some from the worlds of new wave, early electro-pop and modern jazz.

The first track that pops for me (without popping btw) is the dramatically subtle Transmission. It comes off like wind being processed through Ableton with a mind of its own. I can appreciate a futuristic take on nature, and this one revs the ears. Now, mind you, it’s basically a few layered illusory drones built upon each others where he’s left erasures for you to experience the ‘tween of top and bottom layers. This uniquely transitions into the under one minute long tiny operetta, By Beauteous Softness. “Such sweetness…such justice” the singer emotes without instrumentation in a lovely falsetto. And suddenly this has become a quirky conceptual record.

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On side two we begin with the micro-funk of Neocosmic Space Dub. This piece awkwardly fits between 70’s big hair German synth and Belp’s own experimental recipe. That becomes even deeper in the tribal Off Ending, which sounds so damn good (if you don’t mind me saying). This has little in common with the other tracks here, except its insistent beat pattern and tropical insect effects. It purrs with confidence, and more of this styling, balancing the artist’s own in-situ situations (having lived bi-continental), will only draw from experiences un/known. Slow isn’t per se. With it’s ping-pong and low-range effects that mimic smartphone notifications his influences are of today. In the background a voice floats within an ambient lockgroove. It’s a quirky piece of music.

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DON’T HANG THE DJ: And as we meet the final stretch head on, it’s time to get jazzy on Time and Again. Of the various elements here this is most typical and glossy, it’s as though he took a early 90’s Herbie Hancock, watered it down, cut it open, turned out part of the insides, rounded off the edges, added some spice, let it’s parts fly freely, then cleaned it up. This is likely the most composed track here, but overthinks it with DJ style. The last track, Lost Candidates is where he saves his trick card by utilizing rising synths, tapping percussion and a thin layer of hiss to create a cliffhanger. Will there be a part two? Is this a series? Perhaps that is the hippo in the room?

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