A sprinkler system in a thunderstorm.” That’s Andrew Broder, that’s the music he makes as Fog, those are his own words. In the five years since his nom de plume’s first self-titled release, Broder has juked classification like a Pro Bowl running back, spinning off the hips of turntablism, hip-hop, trip-hop, experimental, etc. For the six or seven of us who’ve tuned in, his journey has been enthralling; stylistically speaking, the man cannot sit still. Over four albums, a handful of EPs, and countless remixes and collaborations, he’s exhibited an unapologetically playful yet dead-serious aesthetic—dude uses an Arcade Fire’s worth of instruments and sings surrealist lyrics with a kind of deflated Charlie Brown lilt, but his jams manage to mirror/mock/satirize our modern American hustle and flow.
While his fifth full-length, Ditherer, is unlikely to land the man’s face on the one-dollar bill, it’s another solid addition to a sadly unheralded catalog. Unlike past efforts, these songs were written by a definitive trio—Tim Glenn (drums) and Mark Erickson (bass) are now full-time co-conspirators—making for Fog’s most distinctly rockin’ set to date. (See the distinctly Yes-ian synth flourishes of “I Have Been Wronged.”) The album continues Broder’s exploration of acute angles and gnarled sounds, of burying songs amid herk and jerk (insert Pavement shout-out). Absent are the gentler melodies and “two tons of kittens” lyrical imagery in past releases, replaced by the squirrelly guitars of “Inflatable Ape Pt. 3,” the nervous verse of “What Gives,” and the lengthy, jammy devolution of 10-minute centerpiece, “On the Gallows.”
Album-closer “What’s Up Freaks,” featuring Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, borders on cosmic Americana; its simplicity contrasts sharply with the tumult that precedes it. Broder has stated that Ditherer is a collection of noisy pop songs, but the emphasis is mainly on the noise, muddying up the tunes in a way that’s both frustrating and titillating. But this is Fog: Whatever you call his sound, Broder has always made listeners squint to find the pretty stuff. It’s hard to tell what the sprinkler in the thunderstorm is doing, but it is working.