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Tigran Hamasyan: Mockroot

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Tigran Hamasyan’s music exists in its own universe, and on Mockroot that means distancing itself even from the pianist’s eccentric self-described “electro-acoustic Armenian rock.” The Armenian-American’s sixth album holds on to the rock trappings in some places (especially its closing twofer, “The Grid” and “Out of the Grid”), but more often draws on new age and minimalism. The former involves gentle melodic delicacies, rendered through Hamasyan’s trademark blend of piano and falsetto vocal, making for haunting beauty; the latter often involves running that beauty into the ground.

The balance, alas, favors the latter. “Kars 1” begins with a lovely Eastern European minuet theme, but its cold precision (and the addition of Arthur Hnatek’s drums, Sam Minaie’s bass and Hamasyan’s vocals, all heavily processed) makes it sound mechanical and lifeless; then, like Robert Bresson’s repeated film takes, its cyclical patterns beat it into flat effect. The same is true of the (Armenian) folkish “To Negate,” the rockish “Entertain Me” and, inevitably, “Kars 2 (Wounds of the Centuries)” (which instead of a minuet sounds like a horror-movie cue). The fragile “Lilac,” Mockroot‘s best and new age-iest track, takes a different approach with a sort of rondo form, three beautiful recurring variations on a theme; all of them, though, recur once too often.

Any of these tracks is workable on its own, even magnificent; but placed together in a nearly hour-long sequence, the redundancy becomes maddening. Deviations like the irregular-groove rock of “Double-Faced” and the moody interlude of “The Apple Orchard in Sashmosavanq” help alleviate it, but not much. Even in its ennui, though, Mockroot feels like it’s on to something. “The Grid” offers a stretch in its second half of (what certainly feels like) improvised piano. It’s a breath of spontaneity-isolated, but holding promise of some spark after all.

Originally Published