By: Jack Stein
Anachronistic high school science instructional videos on VHS. Donkey Kong Country. The ominously piano-laden movements on the Donnie Darko soundtrack. Staring up at a night sky from one’s backyard, wondering if anything at all is alive out there. If Montreal producer CFCF’s latest artistic metamorphosis on his recently dropped Exercises EP is redolent of any or all of those things, then you’re definitely in his wheelhouse.
Exercises finds the electronic wunderkind (featured here before for his sublime remix of an Elite Gymnastics track: https://jjmtmusic.wordpress.com/tag/elite-gymnastics/) less focused on throwing a balearic beach party and more ruminative than we’ve heretofore seen. Various interviews concerning the record have focused on CFCF’s mission to sonically chart the “exercises” of his life thus far, a sort of auditory bildungsroman. Hats off to this Portrait of the Artist as a Young Producer, because all the wistful touchstones one could ever want are here; somber keys, buzzing Boards of Canada synths and 16-bit Nintendo backbeats make one yearn for Sunday morning cartoons and life before tax returns and daily commutes.
However, to relegate the excellent Exercises to nostalgic comfort food would be a grave misstep. The true “exercises” found here aren’t the ones that your cerebrum does for nostalgia’s sake, but rather the exercises that CFCF has performed here in structure and song craft. Far removed from the sloppily diffuse compositions of the majority of his bedroom-bound contemporaries, every one of these eight tracks shows a remarkable sense of space and place. Never overstepping their sonic boundaries, these minimalistic torch songs all rise slowly on a handful of sounds (a plinked piano key, a swelling synthesizer tone) without spilling over. Think the instrumental compositions of Michigan-period Sufjan Stevens, or James Blackshaw at his most introspective, and you’re close to capturing the restraint CFCF shows here.
“Exercise #3 (Buildings)” does a particularly masterful job of this, expanding from subdued piano patter to intergalactic Oneohtrix Point Never synth swells to evoke the sensation of being very small in the grand scheme of things. For anyone who has walked alone around a giant urban metropolis, been adrift at sea, or pondered if there really is anything out there beyond our planet’s cloud formations, you know the sobering feeling well. With a true talent for composition and a wistful eye to the past, CFCF has crafted one of the more forward-thinking and ruminant records you’re likely to hear this year.
“Exercise #3 (Buildings)”: