Michael Johnson arrived in Philadelphia a swamp-ape from the Florida Panhandle to lead music technology studies at a downtown arts university. Instead, he discovered in its hallowed halls the derelict crown-jewel of archaic analog electronics with which he would forge his image of the Ape School. Armed with the Moog Modulator synthesizer he helped revive- just the fourth born and installed by the hands of Robert Moog 40 years earlier in 1965- Johnson conjures original songs from beyond his prior tenures in Kurt Heasley’s Lilys, and Sub Pop’s Holopaw, using the Modulator to weave lush motorik dreamsound throughout dynamic instrumentation and his distinct croon.
This seconde one-man-does-all album by Johnson- the first to use the animistic moniker- marries primitive songs with incorporeal sound: glamatic pop exploraions, navigated by studio light, coalesced over time, wine, fallouts, and Rundgren-style self-control.
From the resounding onset of “Wail To God” to the song’s oscillator outro barely two minutes later, the tonal breadth and sonic fluidity of Ape School is clear. A song like “Did What I Did” flirts with pop sensibility, but coheres in subtle feedback when repetition would normally devolve it to redundance. Elsewhere, as on “My Intention” and “Deathstomp,” Johnson commits to full mechanical shredding and focused romps of analog rock glory awash in system buzz. Other, more spacious moments like “That’s Ok,””It’s Over,” and “The Underground” reveal the songs’ subtle instrumental basis, and bare the accidentally clever, eloquent lyrics of his elastic tenor.
Mixed in Jamaica, Brooklyn with Michael Pecchio ina bath of reverb, delay, tape echo, smoke, mirrors, orange juice, and cayenne pepper, Ape School has finally congealed. Upon graduation from Primate U, this album, initially intended for release by co-conspirator Alfred “Daedelus” Darlington, finds a home at Ninja Tune’s Counter Records.
With a band of student human musicians rescued from the confines of musical education, Ape School has opened its doors to limited faculty enrollment. Composed of previous cohorts in Lilys, Holopaw, Human Television, and beyond, the live Ape School incarnation takes one monkey’s primordial creations on summer vacation to civilization. Evidently basted nightly.