Monday, 18 February 2013

Data Romance - Other


They're images you and I have seen at least a few times in our waking life: this, that...and here's what happens when the two are combined. The cover for Data Romance's debut record, offers us one half of this catalytic equation but never the other. It's the unidentified ambiguity that fittingly matches well into duo Ajay Bhattacharyya and Amy Kirkpatrick's fated meeting - Kirkpatrick settling in Canada's Vancouver Island, honing her skills to light up the local night life; Bhattacharyya meanwhile settling in to study sound design for film. The romance, as suggested in the circular meeting point on the cover could evidently refer to the duo's spacious and emotive romance of Bhattacharyya's darkly, light-through-the-windows perspective and Kirkpatrick's chamber lengthening of enriching vocals. In the same vein as acts like Lamb and Portishead, the match-up of male-orchestrated electronics and female-led lyrics makes Data Romance's attraction its musical meeting point. For Other, the duo's look out onto this ambiguous, midnight destination is greeted with a sense of honesty, a sense of bravery. But most importantly, because of this, a sense of clear and concise anxiety.

And it's emotion that comes through tremendously on this album, as opener Caves demonstrates in its immediate swept-off-the-floor majesty of strings and Kirkpatrick's silky floating of vocals. But soon the track comes crashing back down to Earth, the track's buried depth of drumbeats and sizzling electronic textures already materializing a visual light to this dusk setting of city streets and closeted building interiors. It's this perfect match-up of distancing vocals and earthly electronics that only gives me reason to believe this is indeed in the context of an atmosphere more inclined to urban living, and as the album soon unveils, one that is cast in far wider contexts of dark. The not-quite-self-titled Others retreats into UK garage intimacy in its slow burning clicks and flicks of percussion, and as we find out soon, the withdrawn looking-out approach speaks of a longing to recover romantically from perhaps a break-up or a misdirection. The music itself is more defensive-minded; sounds cautiously revealing themselves, atmosphere conjuring a sense of insecurity, but more importantly, a want and need in Kirkpatrick's modest honesty. 'If only you were mine/A bending light,' she expresses as the track reaches a climatic whisk of foggy electronics and point-tipped electronics, 'I can't seem to find you in others.' On their own, the electronics paint quite a greyscale picture that would most likely entice its listener, but with Kirkpatrick's soulful utterances, the music becomes its own rich, oily sleek of emotion.

'Let me hold...some of the weight for you/Let me hold...until my arms go' Kirkpatrick gently asks on following track Cargo - the crisp, percussive clatter of beats and somber strings. It brings back fond memories of listening to a track by Bjork and finding myself attracted to its hypnotic coiling of vocals around the wintry bareness of instrumentation. And here especially, Kirkpatrick matches such cold-toned loneliness, and does the piece justice by her unwillingness to top it, or even add something warm and consoling in its deliverance. Other, as a whole, isn't all about the enclosed spaces however, the pop-esque self-assured confidence of Can't Keep Your Mind Off seeing Kirkpatrick's vocals enter more rhythmic flutters, music more upbeat and lodging key ingredients from contemporary electro, while at the same time managing a similar enclosed physicality to match the sounds of that of a disco space. Lyrics are, admittedly, not as eery and more importantly, as well-sought as previous, and this perhaps leaves the track feeling passively opportunistic in its development, but the duo still prove their sound can meet the more friendlier interiors of this nightly environment. But when the lighting is turned down to its lowest and the scenario is one involving perhaps a lonely vacating from out of the club as is the case with They, Data's fling of trip-hop comes up trumps. Beyond the soulful fusion of anxious drum beats and trumpeting bass, Kirkpatrick's voice gains a lot more in its increased stature of awareness. It's her third-person narrative, yet its first-person relating back that gives the track that extra enticed layer and dimension to it - Kirkpatrick's slightly synthetically-distorted voice beginning to attract, or more likely be preyed upon, by the sounds radiating out from around/behind her.

Tension plays an enormous part in these sound's execution, and when listening to the duo's earlier offerings - where space is more enclosed and a means to outwardly project is more than likely met with limitation - the need and want to see if these sounds can sustain themselves in perhaps more sequential and open ground, begins to build inside me. Thankfully, Data Romance appear to not only show willingness to step out into the unknown, but also - on a surreal level - embrace whatever it is the unknown throws at them. It's the same bold want and need, without concern for what effects it may have, I've come to admire from the likes of Holy Other, How To Dress Well, even the better-known aliases such as Burial & Oneohtrix Point Never to a lesser extent. It's that lack-of-light clarity that paints the sounds of urban electronics in a swift oily-black bleakness, but a bleakness that doesn't instinctively suggest anything negative or off-putting. With a track like Guard, we get a sense perhaps of the resulting effects then on Data's humanity being met with what lies beyond that veil of midnight stretch. Kirkpatrick's compelling foray out into the open is emphasized with the music's upbeat, but more importantly, brash conjuring of bass synths and bitter percussion hits. The way Kirkpatrick begins to blend and soak herself into the darkly textures of the music allows her amplified cries come across in this very sainted ghostly dressage. 'There'll be a guard waiting for you,' she offers quite consolingly as if an echo, 'When you're sick of the old, and you're wanting the new.' And all the while, the music shifts from what is this shadowy apparel into a piece that is laden with buzzing, glazed electronics and resurgent droning, that by contrast, gives the music this chronological naturalness in its physicality.

And while the duo continue to tread lighter ground on Paper Thin - the organic coating of strings and piano adding a sincerity to the album's darkening suggestiveness - the appeal doesn't always match the heights of previous tracks. She's Been High, however, uses the orchestration of instruments, and reverts it to this suggestive utterance of something lurking in the dark. The track's low-ground passage of piano chords gives the piece an essence of desperation and intrigue, but it's the dominance of the drum beats that imply more a state of insecurity and anxiousness about what lays outside the borders of its own enclosed surroundings.  The track slowly builds however to this wash of warm synthesizers and pristine strings in such a way that it feels rather climatic and more suggestive that something is about to unfold, but never really explains or even hints as to what it is that occurs. But the answer, it seems, comes instead in the album's closing offerings in the form of Waiting Pace - Kirkpatrick's gentle reminder that 'I'll be here when you go away/I'll be here, at a waiting pace' - and the way the electronics crisply brighten and bring light to Kirkpatrick's accepted honesty, it gives the ending moments of Other a chance to give its listener an optimistic realization that perhaps things aren't as treacherous or as dangerous as one would have thought. Finish Round is where that truth-be-told acceptance comes to light, for the first time we hear a tinted backdrop of voices; crowds of people, civilians, other members of society, and the loneliness we felt before quickly disappears. Indeed, the music too conjures a sense of liberation from the dark in its brightened elevation of synths and minimal 2-step drumbeats. And it's the way the album trails off on a gentle lead of piano, along with the backdrop of city life continuing to carry on, that gives me this sense that an album like this has been about trials; about testing one's self against the cold and lonely stance of city life, and succeeding.

So to answer the question I had hinted at in the beginning, the unidentifiable substance in this equation of romance doesn't necessarily denote a state of positive or blissful matching. As you'll find on Other, it could well refer to the blissful-anxious disorder the role of city-life has on underground electronic's crave for a voice. And what Data Romance present to us is a tension and uncertainty that speaks, but more importantly, reveals the lengths to its true character. Other as a result, is the sound of a lonely return from a club at three in the morning and getting lost along the way; it's the sound of sitting in an apartment block with the lights on and wondering whether you'd made sure to lock the door; it's the sound of a city that is more than just city blocks and road markings. The perfect equational balance of Bhattacharyya's monotonous electronics and Kirkpatrick's hopeful wandering of vocals sees Other, in result, come across as the sound of one's internal crisscrossing of wires, when the skies are at their darkest, and the uncertainty of what awaits beyond the reach of streetlights, is at its most provoking. It's an opportunity to look at the urban landscape before us and think, perhaps, there's more to it than that. Benevolent, malevolent or neither, the dark holds within itself some level of sentience - prying eyes readying itself for those select few brave, or foolish, to venture out.
~Jordan

8.1

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