Thursday, 22 November 2012

Lucrecia Dalt - Commotus


When you look at the album cover to Colombian-born Barcelona-based singer-songwriter Lucrecia Dalt's sophomore album, 'Commotus', you're going to make potentially one of two assumptions. One, the approaching consuming of cloud cover present suggests what you'll experience is most likely heavy and dense on layering potentially playing on the clarity to the record's sounds and textures. Or two, the album itself is the manifestation of air and wind in the image; light in its integrity yet incredibly mustered and without remorse...a wall of sound if perhaps we were to hear this somewhere better comparable with the atmospheric tendencies of say, the planet Venus maybe. But considering Dalt with her debut album made her mark as a song-writer interested more on the unison between ambient and electronic soundscaping and the forward-thinking honesty in folk and contemporary pop, the little matter of assuming before even pressing the play button gets even more challenging. Certainly it's an open debate over what Dalt is specifically aiming for. But what you find on an album like this, surprisingly, is something more humane and to some extent, more vulnerable because of it.

Certainly that's the case with the album's opening track 'Saltación' which immediately opens up with a billowing swarm of distorted harmonics and a bubbling of percussion and beats. Dalt herself finds herself amidst this fog as if with little choice, her voice murmuring and soothingly floating through this partially-dank partially-obscured void of eery sounds. Certainly this is the point where you think back to that album cover and realize...yes, you're in it now; no turning back, the storm has caught you and you're here to ride it out for better or for worse. That's evidently one of the main feelings I get from this album - that sense of a misstep you've either unfortunately mistaken for better things...or have just been distracted far too much to even realize. The following track 'Escopolamina' thankfully has more of a direction to it, be it confined still in this dimly lit dust-flying-across-your-face obscurity of sorts. There's a throbbing bass that hums its way through which gives way to more simple guitar strings - one vibrant and calm, the other bouncy and ecstatic in its nature - and all the while we hear Dalt humming. There's more of an electronic-like pattern to this track in the way everything feels more contained and processed, however that's not to say that the music doesn't itself feel natural. Even despite how simple and somewhat amateurish the music comes across as, there's still a sense of charisma about Dalt's methodology and it's that canny little attitude that I admire about a track like this.

It reminds me in parts about the way a band like The xx compose and manage their sound - to an outsider less than appealed, it's almost too bare to encompass any sort of lasting enjoyment. However, on 'Turmoil' it's Dalt's more warmer and humbler take on electronic influence that helps her in manifesting the track's rhythm and repetition into something more favorably elegant and with a sense of style. As the percussion continues to make these rolling hits - manifesting this sort of bellowing background ambience to the track - Halt lets her voice and lyrics measure out in small softening dabs of distance and echo. Carrying on, 'Conversa' continues expanding the density of the album's sound, the foggy and slightly mellow obtrusion of bass and guitars increasing so. There's more consideration for composition too, Halt finally showing her more pop-like state of mind for structure and she presents something a little less experimental and something that don't necessarily border on drawing out too much for its own good.

The tempo remains at a gentle and gracious bobbing of the head and it's evident from the opening third of the album this is the speed at which we'll be coasting along at. But while I wouldn't necessarily class it as a complaint to the point where it undermines the overall sound of the album, I do get the feeling that Halt's insistence on keeping this same easy-going persistence will eventually hit a musical dead-end. We get two tracks of somewhat murky, somewhat glitchy, somewhat lack-luster electronic music before we're back to the true essence of the record with 'Esplendor'. Here, even by Halt's standards of palette-making and sound-exploration, it's more stripped back and considerate than previous tracks. The bass in this track finds itself lassoed in phases off-stage as if the very instrument is being pulled back, subdued or silenced even. However, given the way Halt maintains and even emphasizes this hypnotic clarity (or a lack of it) in her vocals and the swaying passes of instruments - that sound like violins but could easily be more guitars - the self-awareness and presence in this track, and indeed its layering, is surprisingly addictive and demands room to let flow.

The more I think about it, the more I seem to imagine a sort of growth and manifestation of something in the album at this point. No more do the sounds feel invading and obtrusive - no more do they come across like an unexpected, unprepared dust cloud that seemingly takes over any and all space you hope to flee to - the progression feels all too natural and embryonic even. 'Mahán' then could be the musical equivalent of some sort of progression and shaping into something far grander. The out-of-focus bass and the muddy texture of it has a sophisticated human beat to it and it suits the song well for it seems to breathe life into a track that soon opens out into this optimistic and evidently confident rhythm of strings and tweeting electronics likewise. It's Dalt's guitar work especially that makes this track what it is, because it shows her moving away from what was this drone-like manifesting of sound. The melody feels really bubbly and alive with activity, yet at the same time still has a sense of control...or maybe, to continue the concept of 'shaping' itself, suggests a lack of, but a definite intrigue, in understanding what's around and about this region of space. 'Silencio' indeed expands on this idea of discovering one's self and discovering that which is around, the chamber-like density of Dalt's voice and the almost bumbling composite of bass and melodica/pipe instruments makes me feel the idea of discovery and even adventure or curiosity is certainly strong on a track like this.

If only Dalt would show as much sense of aspiration and attention even, in her more compact tracks - a la 'Do I Disturb Your Dreams?' and 'Waste Of Shame' - maybe I wouldn't feel as slightly hesitant with this album as I do now. Where one comes across as a simple play on the micro-house attitude of recent in its quickening play of simplified beats, the latter just feels too simplified and jammy for its own good. With the album closer 'Batholith' - which at over eight minutes certainly gives the listener a sense that this will most likely be the predominantly bulkier chunk of the record in scope - Dalt becomes ever more focused on the concept of discovery and being a sort of investigatory hub amid the dust and the fog of the track's clarity. The tribal-like pacing of percussion and the catacomb-like creeping of instruments certainly emphasize that attitude and means to subject one's self to their surroundings. But despite the lavish inclusion of this glowing synthesizer coming in half-way through or the continuing nerviness of the instrumentation, you can't help but feel like something here - or most likely, the majority of its bulk - just goes to waste. The development and progress just seems to move at a snail's pace and it impacts on the listener far more than maybe what it should do.

I guess for an album like 'Commotus' that intentionally - and quite outspokenly - sets out to study and investigate, maybe more than it might (and should) want to detail it rather, a pinch of salt is most certainly needed for a sound incorporating lush ambiance, pop and the occasional flow of electronics. The latter may not come across as strongly, but that's possibly because the record doesn't necessarily incorporate its electronic offering into its rhythm or its means to attract. Rather, Lucrecia Dalt is all about the reaction rather than the production - it's an honest response to the subject rather than a refined recreation instead. Anyone fond of synesthesia experiences will definitely be limiting their colour palette to maybe half a dozen shades on this record, put it that way...and while that is at times an annoyance or frustration, it isn't an overall problem or off-putter that runs through the record. I can for the most part understand and appreciate Dalt's reasoning for going down such an avenue. And above all - the most important point - there are some really interesting sounds emerging from out of this album. Sounds which, used correctly and refined in the right ways, could make for some even better results later on down the line.
~Jordan

6.9

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