Friday, 17 August 2012

Ice Choir - Afar

 

It may come as a surprise - and quite startling and deniable on first inspection - but drummers have a way of standing up from the background of band member placement, instead finding inspiration to venture as a one-man outfit into a sound that is either far contrasting or far withdrawn from the original outfit they're so used to. In one corner we have a certain drummer of Aussie three-piece The Basics, tinkering with formulaic swatches of pop and electronics, culminating in his creating of one of the biggest-selling singles of this year. And in the other (less commercial, but equally invoking) corner, we have the artist Loscil, alias of Scott Morgan, drummer to Canadian indie rock band, Destroyer. In the middle however - between the catchy and the clutching; amidst the swashes of pop and glow of ambience, we have Ice Choir, the new project of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart's Kurt Feldman. 'Afar', Feldman's 2012 debut in a separate outfit, sees him tangled in wondrous 80s pop synths and techno-influenced hooks to create a sound that is both pop in its build, yet equally dance and electronically-charged in its drive.

So here then does the question get raised: is this a trip into the past or a leap-forth into the space-aged future? With the album's opener 'I Want You Now And Always', it  certainly conjures that retro coating of frosty percussive beats and synthetic progressions. But gone are the blissful romanticist vocals of an era and instead, we have a wash of intermit tones blending in with the shuddering drum beats and wobble of electronics left and right. And of course because of it, here we have the established feel-good ambience of contemporary pop that many a music fan will be able to not only reflect upon, but appreciate it for its optimistic drive as well as its dreamy confidence of deliverance. 'Teletrips' likewise continues with the inclusion of elevatory bells and finger-tapping hooks of bass and synths - a sound that, evidently, becomes the primary drive for an album that both expresses and emphasizes very little reason to detour from its norm of resurgent 80s synth-pop atmosphere.

While I wouldn't necessarily detail this as a fault - or even something that may cause problems in its replay factor - there are, at the very least, some causes for concern over just how far and wide this album is willing to go in its diversity and variety of sound. True, as noted, the album does feel more like a homage and a celebration, than a means to intensify and emphasize this artist's particular creative skills (though I'm sure it exists in some shape or form), but while these rattlings of rhythmic drums do bring a smile to my face, it's a smile masking a more focusable concern on what exactly this record is trying to add to the establishment of electronic pop. And where there are moments that feel slightly more hollow and without differentiation, tracks like 'Two Rings' counteract it with amazingly catchy charges of warming bass beats and culminated drums that, in the wider picture, actually share a lot of similarities with the tracks that don't necessarily tick any of my personal boxes.

It's a bizarre turn of events, because I'm liking one track, and not liking another when the difference between the two is marginal, if even existent. It could be down to Ice Choir's [better] choice to focus on the melody in places rather than simply construct something that may be classed as 'pop' in its layering, it may not. But even as I come to this conclusion, you have tracks like 'Afar' which an even more surreal juxtaposition into the mix. Imagine it raining during a hot and humid day, and you'll be close to just what you'll find with this track - a glacial reaching of synthesizers layered over a smoothening graveled palette of bass and drums, the vibe and the atmosphere is one of paradox. And all it does is intensify this notion that you're not quite sure whether the album is, again, confining to the past or blasting forth into future times. While frustrating to decipher, it is one hell of an interesting, and quite exciting, debate to have.

Certainly there's a sense of wanting to reference the present too as is the case with Choir's repetition of beat and hooks included in them, a kaleidoscopic nod to techno and disco's huddle of dance-fused electronics. But above all, that kiddish celebratory outpour is all too rampant in this album, and on 'The Ice Choir', that concept reaches its ultimate realization. Guided by a throbbing of percussion and quickening guitar strums, vocals and synths come out glistening amidst the spacious awe that the track lays itself out as. But beyond that, it's the way the song uses that conventionally tried-and-tested formula of retro pop, and not only succeeds in making it work, but actually intensifies the mood and atmosphere into something a lot more fresher and appealing to someone who may (or may not) have been born two decades previous. Its magic then, lays in its compositing of vocals that breathes life into both the tone and lyrics of its completed structure.

For a nine-track thirty-five minute album, 'Afar' certainly has its merits for being fun while it lasts, even if the thrill and adventure of its journey doesn't exactly reach or even attempt for new territories. Its appeal rather, lies in its balance of the well-aged and well-refined sounds of an electronics' timeline in both the pop and non-pop reaches of music. And like the musically-upbeat aged whiskey it so often feels like, Ice Choir certainly feels more like an idea artist-wise and a nostalgia-trip sound-wise best enjoyed in optional places rather as a constant addiction. But that doesn't take away from the content of its sound. While the differentiation in vocal deliverance and placement of its synthetic instrumentation most crucially, is at a cautious minimal, the executions in the most note-worthy places, provide some gratuitous recovery and note for coming back to this record. And the noted paradox of having heard these same ideas, yet never hearing them in this form or string of substance only furthers the appeal of this record. A surreal appeal yes, but I'd take that over rejection any day.
~Jordan

7.5

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