Markus Mehr from Augsburg has been releasing music in the ambient-electronica area since about 2010, mostly for the Hidden Shoal label. Before that he used to record as Aroma, making music which is described by some consumers online as disco-electro-pop. He’s evidently given up singing, if the evidence on Liquid Empires (HIDDEN SHOAL RECORDINGS HS-195) is anything to go by, and has pared down the core meanings of pop music into a few choice words which he now uses as track titles – for instance, ‘Kissing’, ‘Birth’, and ‘Bleed’, three words which could feasibly sum up the subtext for the entire discography of Lesley Gore. Other track titles contain travel metaphors – such as ‘Voyage’, ‘Heading North’ and ‘Before The Accident’.

As to Markus’ music, it’s more abstract sounds than anything – not very much in the way of beats, melodies, or root chords. He favours a vague and wispy layout, painting onto tape with formless shapes that could be read to mean almost anything. I think he’s evidently got some studio skills, is conversant with his keyboards and devices, and occasionally he does alight upon an interesting and unusual sound or texture, but much of Liquid Empires fails to cohere for me. The pace is sluggish, the musical incident is thin. When he does attempt to arrange his elements into a structure of some sort, as on the seven-minute ‘Voyage’, the results are perplexing and hard to follow, with sudden crescendos structured into the musical narrative that make no sense. I’m deriving more pleasure from short tracks like ‘Clouds For Sale’, ‘Heading North’ and ‘Onset’, which are likewise lacking in consistency but, due mainly to their brevity, emerge as cunning little riddles. Perhaps an entire album of short inconclusive fragments might be another way to go.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for ‘Rank’ with its stylish Euro-beat pulsations and disco-esque groove; no sooner is the listener settled into the rhythm than Mehr pulls out the rug from under us, cross-cutting to a random field recording or elements of a totally different down-beat piece, much more “ambient” and drifty in nature. This “jumpy” experience might be one of the sensations Mehr is pursuing; the effect is a bit like watching a really tedious action-adventure movie put together by a bad editor who’s splicing up footage with an equally tedious arthouse movie. Arrived 14th November 2018.