By Glennon F. Curran
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
This cliché could be a fitting sub-title for J&L Defer’s latest, No Map. Anita Rufer and Gabriele De Mario may not know exactly where their journey will take them, but they are wholly aware of where they are.
No Map exhibits the Swiss duo as driven, tireless disciples of musical craft. While the two surely hold a place in the panoply of modern rock acts as part of Disco Doom, they quietly transcend form while exploring pop music with an experimental enthusiasm as J&L Defer. An indefatigable dedication to both process and composition results in a record that is radically formless, inherently listenable, and fundamentally difficult to define.
No Map was tracked with a commitment to analog ethic, and recorded completely to 4 and 16-track tape machines. Rufer and De Mario capture the pulsating warmth in drum machines, the wobbly timbre of vintage synths, fluttering effects pedals, and the angelic breath of guitar. A vinyl copy of this meticulous record is arguably an essential piece in the collection of any analog aficionado.
The emotional tone of No Map seesaws between optimistic and pessimistic sensations of feeling lost. In “Vibrant,” dreamy piano accompanies a vocal reverie to conjure the contended aimlessness of a wanderer. In other areas, like “Hell,” lamenting vocals flicker against dark synth to convey the sensation of having been led astray. A melody at the cusp of distortion meanders slowly through ambient guitars in “Beach Dark.” The more accessible tracks are perhaps the most noteworthy because they build something so seemingly conventional from raw materials that are so wildly unconventional. “Hard Fiction Road” and “Nowhere” are right where they are supposed to be in some cosmic indie-pop sense, but are experimentally adrift at the same time.
Endlessly wandering yet immediately satisfying, No Map feels not so much unfinished as it does boundless—much like its creators’ pursuit of artistic virtue. We may not know where J&L Defer will take us next, but we should nonetheless follow them for a while on No Map.
By Glennon F. Curran