A solitary hand reaches out from beyond the horizon on the cover of Multi-Panel’s debut release with a collage of a green field in the foreground. It’s an image that neatly sums up the music within, which consists largely of glowing acoustic guitar surrounded by swathes of layered digital effects.
Multi-Panel is 19-year-old Dutchman Ludo Maas, and his dual acoustic-electronic method continues the laptop folk approach pioneered by the likes of Four Tet. The disc begins strongly with “A Day For War,” in which Maas ominously intones the words “today’s a day for war” against a sombre backdrop of scuffed electronica. Maas’ guitar soon makes its presence felt on “The Old Times,” skipping lightly around an aerated mid-tempo groove and relaxing the mood considerably.
Most of the album follows this basic template, with pleasant folkish guitar and wandering electronic treatments. Maas adds frankly undistinguished vocals to several tracks. There are fine moments, such as the skittering techno surface of “Put-And-Take” and the weaving melody line of “Fondness,” but ultimately the disc fails to cohere. Too often the guitar and electronics seem like weak reflections of each other, with neither having the presence to bolster the insubstantiality of the other. There are, equally, structural flaws. “Escapism” cuts loose from its directionless drift with a rippling electro current, only to lose it shortly after; while “Alone in the Field” similarly casts aside what little momentum it’s gained in favour of a patchwork of inconsequential effects.
The addition of four remixes at the end does Multi-Panel no favours, since they tend to be more inventive and creative than the originals on which they are based. This is particularly true of Evil Mousepad’s loose-limbed take on “Traveling Places” and the crunchy, REM-ish swagger of Bambi Dexter’s version of “Night Stranded Drummers.” These remixers display an intuitive grasp of drama and interplay that is sadly lacking from the rest of the disc.