Album Reviews: Giant Question Mark – The Qualbum

Giant Question Mark

The Qualbum

Giant Question Mark is a project by Alex Body and Joe Heuerman that grew out of a mutual affection for synths and drum machines. Since last December, they’ve existed as a live performance duo, though they occasionally uploaded raw, improvised tracks to Bandcamp as examples of their work. I found these pieces really entertaining and wanted to review them, but for the first time in my history as a reviewer, an artist said no. Body felt like the tracks he uploaded (named “question 1,” “question 2,” and so on) didn’t represent finished work. I still disagree with him on this; their improvisational looseness and raw production values give them a unique playfulness and immediacy.

Giant Question Mark’s first album, The Qualbum, collects Body and Heuerman’s finished tracks. They fit—sort of—into the neo-rave genre, which is techno music made by outsiders from the dance music scene. They fit only sort of, because I doubt Body and Heuerman are any more familiar with the “outsider techno” artists than they are with conventional dance music. Their music sounds like techno not because they’re embedded in that scene, but rather because dance music is ultimately functional: It exists to make people dance, and any other effect, like headphone listening pleasure, is secondary. There’s a limited domain of rhythms and sounds that encourage and demand that listeners move their bodies.

Giant Question Mark shares a lot with mainstream dance music, but they’re on their own mission to create sensually satisfying music. They aren’t slaves to the build-up and break-down imperatives of techno tracks. There are abstract squiggly noises mixed in, and new rhythmic or melodic phrases are introduced when they feel right, rather than pinned to a strict grid.

Body incorporates a love for melody and evocative chord progressions from his more conventional songwriting. But even as the melodic ideas subvert techno cliches, the loopy, open-ended minimalism of techno subverts the linearity of conventional song-writing. What comes out of this process is not a mish-mash, as one might fear, but something different and unique. The band name is the method: what next? It’s abstract body music. Or maybe Body music.

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