Thursday, 7 February 2013

Doldrums - Lesser Evil


If you're a regular reader of Music Review Database, you'll be aware of my on-going support for Montreal experimentalist Airick Woodhead, better known as Doldrums. After releasing his EP titled Egypt late in 2012, the alarm bells starting ringing and excitement for Doldrums debut album topped my anticipation list. It's been a while since Doldrums has been fully active on albums, four years in fact since working with Spiral Beach. He's proved his worth as a producer, a contributor and as a collaborator. His EP's show signs of a matured artist with a knack for soundscapes, electronics and plunderphonics. On top of this, Woodhead carries one of the strongest and most unique vocals in electronic music.

Turn back the clock two years; Doldrums just released his debut EP, Empire Sound EP. "Parrot Talk" from this EP demonstrated how Doldrums will inevitably improve as an artist. "I'm Home Sick Sittin Up Here In My Satellite" further mounted the sampling works of Doldrums, since then the Egypt EP has been used to work out what direction Doldrums took and is taking. A track from this EP "Jump Up”, is the liveliest and most acidic Doldrums track to date. It strangely took Kyle Minogue's "Loco-Motion" and turned it into something spectacular. The titular track "Egypt" finds its way on to Lesser Evil, rightfully as it's one of Doldrums most accessible and straight up danceable electronic tracks. He messes with volume knobs, anti and clockwise turning these beauties to change sounds, mash-up samples and create the transformations within the beats. There's tribal like percussion and a thick, flat bass that pounds thought the track, in parallel to the synthesized riff that's also plastered with bass.

Lesser Evil begins with 10 minutes of sheer genius. It takes a lot to warrant my appreciation and admit to using the word 'genius', but seriously, these first three tracks that accumulate to 10 minutes, they're among the best alternative / electronic moments I’ve heard from an outsider since Jon Hopkins. "Intro" unfolds the Woodhead vocal, with layers upon layers of reverb and delay, pitch shifting and eventually some synthesized atmosphere to fade ever so gently into the second track, "Anomaly". This is the pre-release single and we described it as a modern "Take My Breath Away", but far more technical. Doldrums is very much an electronic artist in the new wave of Canadian music, and "Anomaly" speaks for itself. Woodhead has a graceful vocal that works best when layered with reverb, but also works well in an effectless environment. This darkened synth pop track plays straight into the best track on the album, "She Is the Wave (ft. Guy Dallas)". Several seconds of glitch dominate the opening sequence with Woodhead's shy vocal acting as the melody. His vocal enters fully and the glitch instrumental follows suit. There's an extremely dense bass that runs through the bulk of the track, hitting like a lorry. It’s unexpected and every time this track is played, something different comes out of it. There are so many sounds tucked away in this track, and Guy Dallas' production contribution isn't missed. Synthesizers’ power on as distortion combines with Woodhead's vocal to twirl and warp its way out of the opening three tracks - genius.

Two minutes of "Sunrise" are enough to convince you that you're in fact on the beach in Antigua. The reverb / delay combination on the eerie synthesizer sounds like an Animal Collective outtake, but strangely with deeper meaning and complete imagery. Woodhead sings like an angel and again utilises his vocal to layer and add texture to this glitch heavy track. He easily has a stronger vocal than the AnCo duo of vocalists, and to back this claim up, you just have to listen to every Doldrums recording, he doesn't let us down once. "Sunrise" bemusedly ends on a sudden white noise / glitch outro with more warped sounds, which lead in to "Egypt". There's something quite unique about Doldrums. His recordings are just far more intelligent than others that attempt to put glitch music, samples and electronic music together. "Live Forever" is a great example of Doldrums in his zone. You have the brilliant synthesizer riffs, the glitch samples acting as percussion and actual jungle-esque percussion which add an exotic feel to an already outlandish track. 

"Holographic Sandcastles (ft. Sami Nacomi)" features aspects of chiptune and dream pop. Doldrums has lifted an already existing instrumental made by Nacomi under one of his many musical aliases, Brain Expansion Program. This was released over a year ago and like many extraordinary Montreal based artists, has been untouched and uncovered anywhere outside of Montreal. Woodhead sings over this track and delivers one of his best vocals in the process. This track is the combination of two artists, friends and visionaries working together to create music, just like "She Is the Wave" and "Colour of Moonlight". The latter taken from Grimes' euphoric third album Visions, to which Doldrums was a collaborator. It's in these four and a half minutes of "Holographic Sandcastles" that I realise the impact Montreal can have on Europe and across the border in USA. Grimes has already surfaced out of Montreal, and Doldrums is on the edge, it won't be long till Montreal becomes the hub for the western world’s music. The weird and wacky sounds of Montreal are finally emerging out of the underground, and "Singularity Acid Face" as curiously as it's titled, adds just that extra spice to an album of unfamiliarity. 

Lesser Evil fits the two environments most electronic music fails to combine, at home intimate listening and weekend bar / club listening. As Woodhead quite frequently mentions, he began his solo career like many of the up and coming Montreal artists in the underground electronic club scene. Tracks such as "Golden Calf" and "Painted Black" are not just straight forward electronic tracks made for dance music; they're astonishingly dark and eerie. The deep bass and dazzling Woodhead vocal create a different atmosphere to "Egypt". If Channel 4's Skins was actually any good, then they would be playing Doldrums. It's personal, touching and it's breath-taking to hear such tracks on a debut album. "Painted Black" especially catches my attention as a majestic closing track. Woodhead reaches out to the listener in his drone like vocal with more of the glitch percussion and harsh synthesizers that we heard previously with "Live Forever". The penultimate track "Lost in Everyone" is hauntingly astonishing. The synthesizers take on an ambient approach, with Woodhead singing deeper and quieter with a slower tempo, but a stronger amount of white noise percussion. This is the sound Doldrums is going for, and it works. 

Returning to Doldrums Empire Sound EP, we notice the differences and similarities in his music. The outside samples are less frequent and the percussion is far hard-hitting and raw compared to the softer, heavily effected percussions on Lesser Evil. This album can be split right down the middle, the tracks that are happy, and the tracks that are sad. There's a real difference between each and every tracks on Lesser Evil. Not one track sounds the same, and that's something Doldrums has mastered. Without the musical variations and collaborations, Lesser Evil wouldn’t be as important and significant than its current state.
~Eddie

8.5