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Music can forge a deep connection between creator and audience. Yet Jorge Elbrecht would prefer to keep his fans at a distance. A Miami native, Elbrecht moved in the early part of the decade to New York City, where he founded clandestine art collective Lansing-Dreiden. The mysterious crew, posing as a faceless corporate entity, conducted interviews exclusively through email, published inscrutable press releases, and once performed behind full-length mirrors.
At the time, many observers accused Lansing-Dreiden of insufferable pretense. Though the collective concept certainly suggested a kind of calculated aloofness, it simply might have been a convenient excuse for Elbrecht to make pop music without divulging his identity. To this day, he makes no secret of his discomfort with public attention. "If I felt like I had a choice [and] could make a living doing music anonymously, you can be sure I'd have kept it that way," he says via email. And he might have gotten his wish if not for a review that coincided with the release of Lansing-Dreiden's 2004 debut album, The Incomplete Triangle.
Triangle received mostly positive notices upon its release, but one notable exception was the 3.7-rated review that ran on Pitchfork. Penned by entertainingly vitriolic critic Chris Ott, the writeup centered on Lansing-Dreiden's conceptual shortcomings, faulting the collective for constructing a "foppish, pseudo-intellectual house of cards" and calling its members out for an "ill-conceived, pluralistic credibility grab." Ott went on to suggest that Triangle was little more than an elaborate con job, accusing the album's creators of not caring "about music but for what it can do for them." Harsh, perhaps, but his review went even one step further by removing the veil of secrecy and naming Elbrecht as one of Lansing-Dreiden's founders.
Tellingly, the review saved any discussion of the songs for the penultimate paragraph, dismissing them as "academic." In this context, the word was meant to be pejorative, but the songs' academic constructions were arguably their greatest asset, as Elbrecht and company deftly and intelligently fused disparate genre elements — everything from clanging industrial rhythms to speed-metal guitar riffs to Balearic synth lines. It's no surprise Elbrecht cites the dizzyingly complex Mr. Bungle albums as inspiration.
Six years later, Elbrecht is strangely indifferent when discussing the messy incident. He insists he has "no bone to pick with Chris Ott or Pitchfork." True or not, one wonders how much that single event set him on his current course. He now fronts the more conceptually conventional Violens (pronounced vy-lenz), a three-piece band that needs no corporate identity. And while Elbrecht declines to say Lansing-Dreiden is dead, the collective's last album was 2006's The Dividing Island, and it's become quite clear that Violens is now his creative focus.
For Amoral, the trio's long-gestating debut (out November 2), Elbrecht has scaled back not only his conceptual schemes but also his musical ambitions. The new work shares certain influences with his older outfit, particularly the atmospheric postpunk of '80s stalwarts such as the Chameleons UK and the Comsat Angels. But Violens's songs are stripped of Lansing-Dreiden's perilously dense instrumental passages. And some fans might miss his former collective's wild-eyed stylistic gambits, but Elbrecht has faith in Amoral's more direct approach. "I still find the idea of an art company creating all kinds of music really inspiring," he explains. "Neither [compositional] approach is more or less virtuous. But I've definitely been more interested in stylistically focused songwriting for the past few years."
Of course, the biggest difference between Elbrecht's Lansing-Dreiden and Violens eras is that he now seems to accept his public role as a musician. Asked about adjusting to the increased visibility, he admits it feels "pretty strange at times, but as long as I don't feel like a salesman, I'm OK. It sounds so cliché and stupid, but I'm really just being myself." Ordinarily, that statement might ring hollow. But for Elbrecht, straightforward and simple has never come easy.