If you’re at all a fan of hypnagogia, this reissue is something of a gold mine of lost material.
Europe on TV is a reissue of Joe Knight’s two 2009 tape releases, the titular cassette and Volvo Jungle Mist. The new package comprises nearly two hours of Rangers’ lo-fi pop sketches, making for a release that’s equal parts daunting and satiating. The biggest name in hypnagogic music from this era remains Ariel Pink, and comparisons between his and Knight’s work are inevitable. There’s a similar feeling of alien familiarity, where you could swear some of these sounds are samples, even though they probably aren’t (and vice versa). Further, Knight’s baritone is a dead-ringer for Pink’s, to the point where a blind taste-test would be near impossible.
Where Knight differs from his endlessly-praised peers is that he seems less concerned with turning anything he writes into an actual song, a project that continues into his work today. His music is more fragmented, and there’s much fun in tracing the trajectory of the many sounds he works with here. There’s some distorted sampling in the title track that sounds like the dark path vaporwave could’ve taken; moments on “Street Smell” sound like a grittier version of Mac DeMarco. The comparisons go on and on, making this album something of a blueprint for the path of experimental pop to come.
Moving past the contextual and historical information, the quality of Europe on TV is wide-ranging and unpredictable. Other than the lo-fi recording quality and Knight’s general distaste for conformity, there’s little holding these four tracks together. Even as self-contained units, each of the 30-minute sprawls neglect cohesion in favor of a loose, collage-style progression. Trying to find reason behind some of the structural choices is ultimately pointless, as the desired effects of confusion and psychedelia always reign. There are repeated motifs that pop up in every track, but they’re placement serves as little more than a signpost: Like a TV show title card between commercials, it’s a quick and simple reminder that you’re still in the same world.
There are moments, however, where Knight’s avoidance of unity results in some thrilling transitions, particularly on “Street Smell,” which is unquestionably the best track here. While the unfinished songs and quick cuts from the title track are still present, here they feel funnier and more purposeful. Instead of just splicing together two unrelated ideas, Knight takes pleasure in placing two antithetical fragments next to each other. Just before the five-minute mark, a booming and triumphant guitar riff offers the album’s the single most enjoyable section of music, starkly followed by a synth-pop cut that could easily stand alone were it not jagged and unfinished.
Overall, the second half—culled from Volvo Jungle Mist—reads as a slightly more holistic effort, with less sporadic motion and more extended ideas. “Volvo Jungle Mist” is a half-hour of distorted funk rock, giving a greater emphasis to Knight’s guitar playing and straight-ahead drumming. Its relative lack of strangeness could lead to equitable decrease in excitement, but instead the reservation feels like a breath of relief. So too with the final track, “Concorde Breakfast,” where the more relaxed and patient construction helps the listener process the murky compositions. Especially in the track’s final half, where the music becomes truly deconstructed and aquatic, having more time to process each song fragment is nearly necessary.
Whether you listen to Europe on TV in one or multiple sittings, whether you treat it as carefully constructed art music or deranged background noise—it always reads as confoundingly weird. Given the music that Pink, as well as artists like Teams, Hype Williams or Robedoor, would be making five years down the line, the collection of music here is a curious glimpse into a nascent form of this decade’s trends. Obviously, if you’re at all a fan of hypnagogia, this reissue is something of a gold mine of lost material. Even the faults are admirable, as only in the album’s bloated, inconsistent and relentless presentation would any of Knight’s ideas make sense. This is outsider music in its truest form, completely noncommercial and entirely individual.