Friday, 3 August 2012

Beat Connection - The Palace Garden


The euphoria that the rise of chillwave has conjured over recent years, has catapulted the electronic and synthpop scenes from out of the lonely bedroom confines and out into crowd-pleasing levels of admiration for a sound heavily focused on process as much as it is, excess. With last year, names such as Neon Indian, Washed Out and Toro Y Moi were the main leaders in this oceanic wash of looping effects. Here now, lesser-known acts - who too enter the stage with their debut record - have been passed the baton to not just continue the genre's increasing awareness, but so too to grow and build this sound to more than just another electronic-influenced gimmick or musical fad. Beat Connection, Seattle's Jordan Koplowitz and Reed Juenger, come to the table with an EP already under their belt, and influences ranging from the tropics of jungle dance to the emotive ecstasy of synthesizer pop. 'The Palace Garden' then, not only meets the standard set by pioneers of this sound, but too makes numerous additions to it through its influx of surgent electronics and humble homages to two decades' ecstasy over rhythm and grooves.

'The Palace Garden, 4AM' has a definite escapist feel through its paradisal percussion and other-Worldy synth hooks - vocals drifting in and out between a strung of echoing guitars likewise. But it's the way these vocals delve into even further emotive and emotively-conjured territory later on in the track - despite how brief it is - that really sets this song alight. And it's aided only further by how upbeat and outward bound the synthesizers here present themselves in. 'Saola' too shares the same warm rhythm and baked texture of electronics and percussion, it gives the vocals this earthly tone while still sounding as spacious and glided as they actually are. 'Well, I guess that's life/You can't pick up the pieces that you don't like' repeats in charming calls, amid this beat-induced blend of brass, drums and simple synthetics.

There's certainly less of an experimental motif - so far as exploring the nature of their sound - here on Beat Connection's palette, and more of a discovery of one's self when listening to these tracks. Especially so, when you come to realize that the duo tend to (almost deliberately) set their compositions up so to as excite early on and then build on that deliverance in the latter parts of their music. 'Invisible Cities' by contrast has less of this actively charged aura about its tone, yet the unison between vocals and harmony creates an equally uplifting and charming aura. The music here confines itself to further tropic-influenced percussion and hand-clapping, but it's the vocals that shine the brightest here, as well as the way the harmonics and dynamics to how they're presented continue to build and build to the point where this sunny blast of summer warmth and mild midnight air feels that even more hairs-on-arm tingling. By the time the track comes to its conclusion of solitary beats echoing across the track, the ambience and surroundings of it all have that much-needed dimension about itself.

Even when the musical premise doesn't conjure up the thought of some Mediterranean - or even Caribbean - coastline of synths and vocal accompaniments, the duo's knack for melody and rhythm is both exciting and liberating. 'Think Feel', leaning more into the internal affair of house hooks and the warmth of bass rather, is the most aspiringly attractive track on this album. For people who recognize a band like The XX's minimal use of tone and instrumentation, will definitely identify this duo's thinking lying on the same wavelength - the continuation of bass and beat, alongside a vocal string dabbling its toes (rather than sinking them) in this pool of glowing electronics, marks itself as a well-sought discovery into minimal notation and rhythm. It may be the only time where the band decide on stripping back their effects and their layering, but for a one-time moment, it pays off remarkably well. Not that the album as a whole doesn't demonstrate some interesting delves into pop-orientated synth play-abouts.

'Sometimes Wonder', the album's penultimate offering, combines these ideas on sound and beat into a hook that's more experimental in its execution, yet still manages to keep this spacious awe glowing with colour and life through its vocal placement and repeated electronics throughout. And again, when the vocals remove themselves from the equation - or here rather, disappear into the meshed background of droned layering - when the echo of synthesizers and drums takes over, the feeling is one of an immense attraction. It would be easy to become bored or tired of these same hooks, but for some reason, the sounds lose neither their appeal nor their cunningness to keep the rhythm exciting and worthy of attention. 'En Route', which marks itself as the final seven and a half minutes, mirrors in multitudes the same essence of nestled vocals and upbeat electronics present throughout this record. The way the hidden layers of bass and organ keys still keep their sampled-esque nature - yet coming out as if an original and fresh part of this composition - add further depth to a track deep in guitar hooks, 4/4 beats and keyboard quirkiness.

People coming to this album for the first time may, or may not, catch a glimpse of the track times lying side-by-side with the titles and may - for the right reasons - assume this is an album full of ideas, but - wrongly, in my eyes - too half-formed to be considered a fully-pledged listen. The truth is, is that time and length don't really add fault to, or even falter in general, an album such as 'The Palace Garden'. Beat Connection's abilities lie not in the construction of their sounds, but rather the mood and the characters that come brimming from out of its synthesized and layered-on appliance. An album such as this, as a result, works its way into providing a setting and a means to express itself to its fullest potential. And through the duo's undeniable success in using electronics, lyrics and effects, this timeless tropical setting not only works, it comes to life before our very eyes. In a time where countries like the US and the UK are experiencing the best that summer weather can hope to offer, it's somewhat fitting that this album comes at a time that may well capture that same jubilation of such a moment.
~Jordan

8.0

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