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An intricate patchwork

Montreal artist Smileswithteeth uses samples to craft warm, diverting electronica

Smileswithteeth creates music equally suited for dancing or letting your mind wander. Photo credit: Facebook

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The history of sample-driven music is an odd one, littered with plucky DJs and producers whose first and greatest strength was the ability to dig through crates of records in search of seconds-long snatches of fascination. Samples were the great equalizer, allowing amateur songsmiths the ability to create their own original art out of the scraps of other works. Starting with hip-hop, where the goal was simply to find a beat and a spare bit of melody that could be endlessly looped, sampling soon took on greater heights of innovation, resulting in monumental works like DJ Shadow's Endtroducing ..., which is recognized as the first completely sampled album.

Outside of the world of pure hip-hop, we get enigmatic electronic groups like the Books and the Avalanches; the latter group's iconic debut album, Since I Left You, features an estimated 3,500 samples, intricately woven together into a dizzying sonic collage. Tellingly, it took the Avalanches 16 years to release their second album, plugging away at it the entire time, trying to meet the expectations set by their debut. Elsewhere, though, we see examples of artists who don't feel the need to make endlessly complex music from their samples, as Tune-Yards demonstrated with her charmingly homespun patchwork debut, Bird-Brains.

Montreal artist Smileswithteeth's music may be intricate, but it doesn't feel overly fussy. Utilizing loops and samples, Smileswithteeth (AKA Gabriel Gutierrez) creates bubbly tracks that stutter and glitch in a fizzy swirl. Call it chillwave or dream pop or any number of vaguely defined identifiers -- at its heart, this is music that seems powered by the joy of constructing idiosyncratic sound. This is what the practice of sampling does best, subverting familiar sounds and assembling them in unexpected ways.

While there's a danger for sample-driven music to have a cold detachment, Smileswithteeth shows that it can also possess an emotional core. His latest EP, Suddenly Constantly, was written as an ode to his girlfriend, inspired by a disastrous trip they had taken together. As Gutierrez revealed in an interview, though, the two broke up a couple weeks before the release of the album. Knowing that backstory lends a wistfulness to music that already had an air of warm resignation about it. The jittery, restlessly percussive "We Fight in the Prettiest Places" also takes on a bit of added meaning.

Ultimately, though, with little in the way of vocals that aren't chopped into jagged pieces, one can read whatever they want into Smileswithteeth's music. This is music that lies at an intersection populated by a fair amount of electronic artists, at the moment. If you feel like dancing, this music is there with fractured beats to get your body moving. Are you more in the mood to sit back and get lost in thought? Smileswithteeth can help with that, too, making songs that have the feel of repetition, while also carrying enough variance and unpredictable digressions to keep your unconscious brain invested. Even when the percussion gets a little on the nervy side, Smileswithteeth smooths things out with consistently sparkling, blissed-out melodies.

"Mornings" closes out Suddenly Constantly on a gorgeous note, somehow sounding more organic than everything that came before it. When Smileswithteeth is firing on all cylinders, as he is on "Mornings," he comes close to peerless in sample-driven music for accessing head and heart in equal measure. Avoiding the pitfall of overly intellectualizing compositions, at the cost of emotional connection, Smileswithteeth strikes a careful balance that makes his music endlessly re-listenable. I can imagine it'll be fascinating to see him replicate these tightly woven songs live.

SMILESWITHTEETH, w/ Cedar Sap, Noneforme, Tiny Birds, 8:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 19, $5, Dumpster Values, 302 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.705.3772

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