Ben Jacobs was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a piano. As a child he protested about the lessons in which he was forced to learn the music of the famous (dead) composers. "I used to prefer sitting at the keyboard at home and playing tv theme songs and music from adverts," remembers Ben. Eventually he realised that this expanse of black and white keys could be turned to his own advantage and he began forming his own musical inventions.
One day, the teenage Ben bought a Commodore Amiga 500 home computer. Armed with this and one piece of music software, he began to explore the world of electronic composition. Eventually he got so good at using this cheap set-up that Warp Records released his first single "Children At Play." "Warp were the only label who were interested in my first tune," says Ben. "I sent my demo tape to fifty labels in all, but most people freaked out. A couple of guys made the bizarre criticism that I had too many ideas." This criticism has frequently dogged Max Tundra (as he was hereby renamed), in a musically diverse, eclectic career where time signatures, musical genres and instrumentation have been given the thorough shake-up they have long needed.
Parallax Error Beheads You, the third Max Tundra LP and his first since 2002’s Mastered By Guy At The Exchange, is a masterpiece of micro-melodies and sound-bytes; a triumph of splicing, dicing and editing. It’s an intricate mosaic of sounds and styles, some of which you might recognise from the last 30 years of pop, rock, prog, disco, funk, techno, rap, metal and soul, but many of which are completely new: either from a startling recombination of existing genres, or from Max inventing an original one himself. The attention to detail, and the sheer speed at which ideas whizz past you in the mix, will leave you stunned.
“Each song contains many facets and genres, and the starts of songs are often stylistically extremely different to how they each end up, touring via a few styles along the way,” says the man himself, going some way towards explaining why there are multiple, simultaneous or sequential, melodies during each of the 10 tracks on Parallax, and why one song can sometimes sound like seven different bands from totally different worlds playing at once - "Glycaemic Index Blues," to name but one of the songs on the album, is like Yes playing glitch techno with Pharrell Williams fighting Todd Rundgren at the controls while Green Gartside offers his creamiest falsetto. Just call it cosmic glitch-pop R&B.
“There are micro-melodies on the album – generally, layers and layers of stuff,” says Max. “Hopefully, the more you listen to it, the more new stuff will reveal itself, stuff you didn’t notice the first few times you played it. It’s intricate but that should mean it’s more rewarding over the distance, so that people can go back to it and hear new things each time.”
Mentioning that "Which Song" - earmarked as the second single from the album, following "Will Get Fooled Again" (which itself sounds like McFly in space) - sounds like Scritti Politti had they signed to Warp in 1991, Max admits, “I like the Scritti comparisons.” For him, '80s pop isn’t a Guilty Pleasure, it’s an untapped resource. “Even Nik Kershaw – he’s often dismissed as cheesy, but he also had really nice, catchy melodies that were quite Zappa-esque. I’m a big Zappa fan, and I also really like progressive stuff like Gentle Giant.” Among numerous other things: on his MySpace he lists 100 bands that he loves, from Art Of Noise to Andrew Poppy to Ariel Pink to Akufen to Autechre to Architecture In Helsinki to Alan Braxe to Arthur Russell to A Certain Ratio. And that’s just the A’s…
As for the aaahs and ooohs - the luscious, smooth vocals – Max says he arrived at those from years of “doing Prince at karaoke.” But how many people did it take to put together the multi-faceted extravaganza that is Parallax Error Beheads You? Three? Five? Nine? All of the above? No – one: Ben Jacobs a.k.a. Max Tundra, who handles all the many instruments, the vocals and the production. This might be why the album took six years to create.
But why Parallax Error Beheads You? “It’s nothing to do with the music,” he says of the curious title. “I always try and come up with a semi-poetic but oblique phrase for my album titles. In this case, it’s from when you buy a cheap camera, and the eyepiece and lens are separate, and when you take a photo and get it back from the chemists the picture you see is slightly lower in the frame than you’d like - that’s known as a ‘parallax error.’ All three of my LP titles are quite strange and don't have a great deal to do with the music.”
And yet for all its instrumental prowess, titular ingenuity and intricate intelligence, Parallax is a pop record. “There are nagging, catchy melodies,” says Max, who points out that some of his songs have started to get used on high-profile film soundtracks and TV adverts. “It’s for singing and whistling along to. That’s what I’d like – to walk past a building site and hear builders whistling a song of mine which they've heard on Radio 1. Some of the sounds and songs are not that far from the sort of pop music made by people like OutKast or Beyonce. Maybe I’m deluded about this, but there are things going on on my record that you might hear on a song by Rihanna or Sugababes.”
Could he write a Top 5 hit? “I already have,” he reveals. “But I’m saving it for someone like Rihanna or Sugababes. It was written with a girl singer in mind. Hopefully I’ll be able to write songs for a few super-pop artists before the next Max Tundra album comes out!”