Alex Waterson is one of the most prolific and adventurous electronic producers in American music history. His work has stretched across genres, from ambient techno to ambient-leaning house music, as well as the darker, more experimental side of the genre. In recent years, his work has also contributed to bands like Jeremy Laidlaw, and he has played a large role in the development of the experimental house music scene.
In his new album “The Beginning of Everything”, he offers an overview of the history of electronic music through the lens of the past several decades, exploring a wide variety of genres from dancehall to industrial, and including a few songs from the experimental music of the late 20th century. For those of us who grew up in the mid- to late-1980s, “The Beginning of Everything” might seem like a relatively minor landmark, but Waterson has been a vital player in shaping that decade's aesthetic, crafting sounds that remain relevant today. And his playfully angry and unabashedly honest portrayal of world music-- marked by its use of sampled and otherwise jarring vocal samples, a style that often overlaps with the use of sampled voices-- is a crucial element to understanding this music. “The Beginning of Everything” is an interesting project in many ways. While it's a collection of music that's about as far from dance as you can get, it's also a record that's both deeply interesting and deeply accessible.
Waterson, a native of Boise, has been a fixture in New York for decades. He's been a key figure in the experimental music scene there since the late 1970s, when he began turning his attention to the avant-garde scene there. His first major label, New Century, debuted his first EP, a jazz-influenced collage called “The Book of the Dead,” which highlighted his ability to take a loose-limbed approach to jazz. The next few years would see a series of releases under the name Birdsong, and a string of collaborations in which he'd create a sound that was both deeply human and deeply electronic. While the latter two things are often attributed to his early electronic music, it's actually a combination of influences that makes “The Beginning of Everything” even more complex.
“The Beginning of Everything stands out because of the way its beats and melodies link together. On the album's centerpiece track, "This is My Head On Her Hands", feels like the point where everything comes together: it's a tormented, doom-laden track that begins with a wailing, B-movie vocal sample that grows louder and angrier, until it eventually subsumes the record's entire sound. I'm not sure Waterson has ever before offered such a powerful, direct take on ambient music, but I can't help but be reminded of the majesty of his previous work.