The three-year span between Strategy's 2004 release, Drumsolo's Delight, and the recent follow-up, Future Rock, has been far from artistic "downtime." Paul Dickow, the slight cat behind Strategy, has spent this more than hectic few years co-running one of Portland's most promising and diverse new labels, Community Library; co-curating Holocene's monthly dance party, Boombox Friday; collaborating with Honey Owens and Brian Foote as part of ambient improv group Nudge; DJing monthly, weekly and one-off gigs at venues from Holocene to Ground Kontrol; and remixing the hell out of whoever else's music he can get his hands on.
All of it is part of Future Rock (released May 21 on Kranky). The record, Strategy's third full-length, is a singular expression that encompasses numerous influences, as well as musical eras dating back to Portland's mid-'90s electronic scene. The goal of Future Rock, says Dickow, was to make "one album that summarizes my entire bizarre musical experience of being in Portland for the last 13 years."
And he's come as close as one could possibly fathom (though exactly how close is likely known only to Dickow). The record, to put it mildly, is a puzzle of overlapping genres—jazz, disco, funk, ambient, lounge—borrowed styles and subtle winks and hints at moments in music's past.
The influence of aforementioned trio Nudge (of which Dickow's been a member for roughly a decade) isn't as subtle. Nudge's curved, irregular beats (imagine a drum line drifting freely underwater), backroom funk and massively effect-laden vocals find their way into the mix right from opening track "Can't Roll Back." Such Nudgelike attributes appear on the title track as well, and on "Red Screen" (an eight-minute takeoff of Nudge's much shorter "Blue Screen").
Strangely, for someone who has lorded over countless dance floors (as DJ P Disco and lately as DJ Strategy) over the past three years, Dickow barely touches a dance beat on Future Rock. A sense of communal motion does find its way, though, into the title track with a cool polyrhythm built of shaker, handclaps and a perfectly awkward mechanical beat (which is eventually joined by a perfectly awkward "real-life" snare). The resulting quilt of swooping flute, funk guitar, odd synth sounds and crunching echoes is as blissful as it is indiscernible.
In fact, "Future Rock" is as indiscernible and genre-free as anything on the record—save the album's two, purely ambient interludes ("Windswept" and "Sunfall"). Even the quite poppy, overtly retro lounge kick of "Stop Spinning" falls into undefinable territory. This is, of course, Dickow's ideal: Future Rock's title is sarcastic, a prod at the rock scene Dickow says Portland "has been insistent upon for so long." But there truly is no genre for what he's doing, so why the hell not call it "future rock" and have a good laugh when the rest of music catches up?