Monday, 27 May 2013

Mount Kimbie - Cold Spring Fault Less Youth


The tag of post-dubstep is not only one of the more humorous dysphemisms of underground electronic music, it's also something that comes across as demanding to be bought as some kind of future tense in the same field. True, dubstep is no spring chicken. But even if it is 2013, that doesn't mean we should already be looking to tag anything remotely experimental or independently-provoking as some next-level identity in its own right. To be fair, the intentions and reasoning are there to be seen. With the new decade bringing up artists such as the psychedelic urban treading of the likes of Darkstar, to the continually talked-about/hyped-about James Blake, any feeling of irregularly-shaped compositions mixed with textural eeriness is likely to conjure the dreaded p-word in music circles. Mount Kimbie are no strangers to having this plastered across their debut. But in some bizarre way, that's only pushed the level at which their urban splicing of sample instrumentation and electronic beats has been greeted by the wider crowds. 2010's Crooks & Lovers didn't end up carving the extremities or even testing the bordered characteristics to what this 'new genre' is currently offering. But in hindsight, the message was more a comforted state than a polar-opposite archetype. And following in the footsteps of the above mentioned three-piece, Mount Kimbie are welcomed into the growing catalog of Warp's roster of new electronic ideas (though my decision on whether the label takes as kindly to the idea of a new sub-genre remains to be seen) - 2013's Cold Spring Fault Less Youth in all its mouthful syllable clashes, is an interesting discovery on how the duo both respond and expand on what their debut initially alluded to, than outright declared.

Whatever you do though, don't be fooled (or even put off) by the album's white-cube-esque indulgence in abstracted simplicity. If there's anything Mount Kimbie's sophomore isn't, it's simple. Home Recording, despite its luxurious jazz swings and downtempo slurred synths is in no way suited to some monographic rinse-and-repeat motion. Despite the low percussion placement and the growing smudge of electronics wandering aloft, the higher-reaching, wider-impacting textures of percussion, and the depth they create, give this track a lot more of a platform to stand up on. And alongside the vocals - which here are pinned at a fairly semi-visible point in the track - do enough to stop the music slipping too far into laid-back passiveness. You Took Your Time by contrast sees Mount Kimbie taking refuge in the basement comforts of urban RnB hooks. The first track on the album to feature guest vocals from King Krule, Kimbie slowly loosen their sounds from out of the early evening refuge; crisp hi-hats and swing drum synths leading Krule's monotonous lyricism flow freely. 'Now did you see me/I killed a man', Krule begins, 'They all stayed down/But he chose to stand'. From then on, Krule's lyrics paint a very anxious almost unsteady atmosphere; lyrics then focusing on tension-turned hostility and ultimately resulting, as his more-textural choral hooks soon turn towards, a sense of violence and death. All the while, there's a clear sense of concern albeit one mixed with frustration. And musically, Kimbie's once-simple rhythms slowly gain more momentum and more mass - drums gradually coming closer and closer to the forefront while the instrumentation collectively begins to inflate as tension in the lyrics mount evermore.

In regards to progression, the slowly-unveiled low-burning Break Well shows off Kimbies more atmospheric and (dare I say it) ambient ideals in their electronic palette, keyboard arpeggios looping over until their brisk, breezy textures are slowly revealed. And as the arpeggios are added to more and more by opposing synths and echo usage in parts, the track finally lets loose in its closing third - pumping drumbeats and pressed sub-bass leaving the reveal feeling ever the more justified. But it's the immediate step-by-step, left-right-left march of keys on Blood And Form that is actually the more captivating and successful in latching its listener's ear. While the beat remains fairly unchanged throughout, there's enough slight tweaks in the bass accompaniment and minor variances in the backing of analog clicks that give the track's sumptuous end trail some reasonable build-up. Some of Kimbie's best drum work evidently is on album stand-out Made To Stray, ball-bearing-like percussion hits looping in and around the sizzle of analog noise before meeting up with the track's warm sleek of stretched synthesizers and flattening drum beats. While I am left slightly questioning the placement and the timing of vocals here, it doesn't take away from the overall atmosphere of the track, which here, generates an equal amount of soothing ease but at the same time alludes perhaps to more open-World, external ambition in its rhythm and its chord leads.

Though it is surprising how well, and how swiftly, the album moves from one musical territory to the next, there are at times, as noted, where vocal offerings (and more-so any layer that is built from sampling and relying on repetition) can get in the way. This may be because the tracks Mount Kimbie build here appear to reach for a higher volume of immersion than simply an urban environment or even an evening abstraction of relaxed solidarity. Because of this, I can't deny that there are moments, especially when the music appears to hit its peak, that the clarity and the initial ambition gets partially lost. Fortunately, vocals are in shorter supply on a record such as this - or at least shorter supply in the sense that tracks aren't particular composites built to coincide with a given voice or set of lyrics - and I feel this a decision Mount Kimbie benefit from. Unfortunately, at the moment of opportunity, the duo either rely or force themselves to focus too heavily on the need for obscurity and obscuring that which gives their sound its interesting richness and detail in the first place. Lie Near offers up some interesting loops of rash synths and brass drone. But the way the track immediately devolves these sounds into obscured blurs somewhat loses the initial appeal of these tones. Even if the music in itself comes off like it were drawn with pastel or some other smudged craft, the later inclusion of drums - a layer which enforces as much focus on the low tones as it does the cymbal crashes - leaves me slightly confused on where exactly the direction and the focus is being lead.

Meter, Pale, Tone, Krule's second guest feature, is a lot more jungle-orientated and instinctive in its execution. It feels, in essence, slightly more animal-like but not in an uncontrollable, feral way. It's a livelier piece, but there's still some sign of a provoking vibe and humane reason behind its tone. Krule's vocals aren't as fronted or as directly impacting on the listener sadly, and this does rub against the measure of the instrumentation. Instead, it's the textural variance of the lead percussion (a mixture of wooden taps and stricken bass coming across really well) and the, what I take to be, quite sorrowful moan of synths, that add depth and richness to a track not exactly denoting or outright professing its more emotional or personal connotations. But it's that neutrality and lack in bias that I quickly come to admire about Kimbie's sound and the reason why a track like Slow can succeed even if it lacks in any developmental direction. Instead, the immediate delivery from the very start automatically catches the listener; sweeping gales of electronics conjuring a sort of isolating malevolence, while at the same time the punchy intensity of drums signal the track's divergence from the previous urban-esque downtempo comfort zone. And even if the more-clearer synth arpeggios come across as out-of-place and, to some extreme, subtracting what tense atmosphere is being generated, the way the electronics calm and ease themselves around the drumbeats definitely add a sense of involvement and interactivity. Fall Out, the album's ending track, is slightly daunting and quite troublesome in how it attempts to match up contrasting signatures of sound with each other. And ultimately, while succeeding in creating a sort of split personality of ease and energy, the repetition and resorbing of sound do feel more an intermission than necessarily a valiant send-off.

I suppose given from the choices in sample techniques and means of positioning their sounds, Mount Kimbie don't want anyone coming away thinking this is specifically another album whose musical geographic is lonely isolated to some suburban underground or closeted room full to the brim with machinery and recording equipment. In that regard, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth does feel more an outside, embracing-of-the-external recording than their debut. And more-so, it's not necessarily an album many will tag as post-anything. Yes, there are moment when 2-step drum rhythm and crisp minute textures do come into play, but the best and most important thing about these is that Kimbie (for most parts) make sure their sounds don't leave themselves appearing deliberately isolated or simply confined to one's own state-of-mind. It's a shame that the duo's exploration of the wider interaction of electronics does come off in parts more like a vulnerability than anything. Because of that, their navigation and their clear sense of openness does end up getting clogged up or even borrowing from the wrong sources in clear parts. However, Mount Kimbie do justice in demonstrating especially that downtempo aesthetics aren't destined to simply lay by the lounge chairs of many a household, or that more ambient treatments of the synthesized can't have something eagerly awaiting to be revealed in closing parts. For that, their sophomore definitely leaves itself suggesting the duo have introduced themselves to wider sounds. And more-so, where some albums work to reacting to either one of a sub-genre's extremity, Kimbie's skill, as noted, lies in finding that equal middle-ground, without sacrifice.
~Jordan

7.6

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