What would possess someone to start an album with track titled “Opening Noise” featuring an 18 second sound snippet of some kind of washing up going on, tools being rummaged through and a cow faintly doing its thing in the background? The pursuit of hearing music in the natural world from the most unlikeliest of places and with the most unheard of materials, that’s what. It is a craft which the English duo Psapp specialize in. What Makes Us Glow is an introspective journey through the abnormal, and the opening track symbolizes what really stokes Carim Clasmann and Galia Durant; music no one else hears. Their mission is to take the noise in their heads, record it from the world and convert it into recognizable pieces for the rest of us. What makes their music so interesting is that, on a fundamental level, they don’t need all the gadgetry at all.
The album would do well if it was just an acoustic guitar complementing their gorgeous melodies. There is real song writing beneath their snores, cow moans or their home made marimba-esque instrument made from bones. In that case, their bizarre collection of sounds are not gadgetry at all. Pageantry, perhaps, but not gadgetry. Even though every track on the album is completely different, there is an overwhelming sense of control and strict composition. Perhaps, that’s why it has been five years since their last release.
Tinkering with sounds is an art form on What Makes Us Glow, one not to be taken lightly. Which is why when you hear a bicycle bell in “Your Hot Knife”, you can’t imagine anything there taking its place. Unfairly dubbed Toytronica which bears with it the connotation of infantile noise making, there is nothing childish about this record. Psapp’s inspiration might be odd, their instrumentation non traditional and the musical vibe quite upbeat, but What Makes Us Glow is really a collection of expertly crafted and arranged songs, and if a comparison needs to made, the duo shares the spirit of David Byrne and St. Vincent, with their unusual, seemingly random sounds, mature themes and memorable melodies.
Their first single, “Wet Salt”, features a keyboard hook that is reminiscent of an 8-bit video game, yet the prose unfolds to reveal a story about an end and the initial child-like playfulness of the music quickly develops into layers of rich harmony and texture. This is sort of the modus operandi for Psapp which is why they might fool some into believing that their basement recording studio is filled with nothing but toys. Aside from the fact they do feature some traditional instruments such as pianos, violins and organs, everything always morphs into something greater than the initial playful blip. Case in point, the title track sounds as if the beginning is played by children with a few breaths into a toy mouth instrument of sorts and a flute that is badly blown. It is a fitting introduction to a song that reminds us that we are in control of our happiness. “We choose what makes us glow” .