The Pen Test's Interstate mirrors Kraftwerk's Autobahn pretty perfectly. Each LP begins with a side-long exercise in Kosmische music dedicated to a geographically defined highway system - the Autobahn in Germany and the Eisenhower Interstate. The second side of each record is then comprised of four songs around the five-minute mark that display experiments into the analog and the electronic. Oh, and each album is awesome.
It's a reflection that's done on purpose and it's one that works. This album pretty much hit me at the perfect time too, as I've been listening to more Kosmische, psychedelic music than anything else lately. The Pen Test are a duo of American exercisers (Bryan Hitchcock and Patrick Scott-Walsh) of the electronic and the rhythmic, as the best Krautrockers were in their heyday, sometimes leaning on a motorik bassline, though never completely relying on it. Obviously, it's as effective today as it was in late 60s Germany - there are still very few records that sound as confident and curious as those first few records from Amon Düül II, Can, Neu!, or anything Klaus Schulze touched.
Enough history. Let's get into Interstate. As said above, the record begins with a 20+ minute suite of car-engine-like ambiance on top of gentle percussion and synthesizers with a dash of sparse vocals thrown in as well. This isn't the same catchy song as "Autobahn," by any means, but more an exercise in mood and meditation. And that's a big difference. Interstate is not the joy-filled cruise around a country that Autobahn is, but a controlled thinkpiece on the cultural, psychological, and civic effects of the Eisenhower Interstate. Distance-crossing is also part of the interwoven history of the recording process, as the LP was recorded at Dub Narcotic in Olympia, Washington and produced by Mikey Young (you know, that guy from Australia who has been in a couple bands).
The second side has more vocals and traverses more song-oriented musical landscapes, though still without ever becoming comfortable. It's a rewarding listen, especially with all of the context. I've never gotten to see the band live, which is a damn shame, since I hear that there is a choreographed visual element to the band's performance as well. Rats off to you, Robert, Moniker has another hit on its hands!
They are currently touring the U.S. with a giant subwoofer. Get forked!