Sunday, 16 June 2013

Jordan's Album Round-up: May

Bibio - Silver Wilkinson

UK-based producer and musician Stephen James Wilkinson is quite a gentle repertoire and musical vitae against what is a more experimental and synthetic formula many artists in this sub-genre prefer to explore with. The England-born composer - a frequent name to be found on many a listener's summer playlists and IDM run-throughs alike - makes his Bibio alias stand out from the spectacle of hot climates and listen-alongs of summer-leniant libraries, because of the man's prevalence against willingly falling victim to such tropes of these tags he's usually associate with. Following on from the more testable - albeit slightly challenging - Mind Bokeh, 2013's Silver Wilkinson sees Bibio return to his signature acoustic leanings and blissful summer vibes that made 2009's Ambivalent Avenue one of the more surprisingly high-achievers of the year.

Wilkinson (the artist) shows no hesitation in giving his listener a complete and atmospheric spectacle, The First Daffodils sweeping into play with its echoey, analog tweets and mumbling guitar strings. There are no beats here; no outrun synthesizers or pulsating rhythms. There's simply this carelessness of slightly bustling, slightly naive shoots of instrumentation, all of which is coaxed in this dreamy textural veil that remains lavished over the piece. Likewise on follower Dye The Water Green, it's clear Bibio's objective is centred on space and feeling; acoustics slightly less vacant and withdrawn, but still being pushed back - aided by Wilkinson's blurred, gleaming vocals - by the objection of this glistening and, at times, blinding demographic of summer. The man's argument that he can ascertain rhythm and emotion does comes suggestively on the tidal sweeping-over of buzzing synths and percussion that is Mirroring All. But it's demonstrated quite profoundly thereafter on album stand-out À tout à l'heure. The latter, its nostalgic BoC-like fondling of dusty, acoustic production gives Wilkinson's memory-inducing innocence of vocals, that richer and emotive conviction.

From that, I'd like to think Bibio builds on this same excelling delivery. Instead, the feeling is that Wilkinson seems rather content with how dizzying and blissful his techniques project to the listener. And ultimately, the progression through to the album's latter half becomes evermore confusing as to where the Englishman is deciding on laying the boundaries, and why. Following on from Sycamoe Silhouetting's slightly reflective and personally covalent guitar plucks, You shows a much fresher and interesting use of beats and chopped vocal samples, a la the style of sample-heavy favourite Bonobo. Even though the track remains caught in this flustered shine of high-noon summer sun, Bibio's beat-driven rhythm expresses the same level of careless wonder, but this time with quite an instrumental backbone and objectiveness to it, that wasn't present in previous tracks. Unfortunately, moments such as these are either too hidden amid the reverb-soaked colour of the atmosphere, or are simply dropped altogether. And worse, Bibio's heat-stricken textures and environments end up worsening the quality of what most would consider his biggest benefit: his guitar usage.

Where Raincoat feels indecisive and unplanned - packing too many textural details into too little of spaces - Look At Orion! has its weaknesses because of such length. While the more flickered and sliced quality to guitars and percussion generates some interesting relationships, I don't feel the track really aims for anything major or attempts to truly hit either an emotional or a visual nerve. And even with its rich and vast colour of sound, the variety only makes this track feel almost too big and too vast for what is a very simple and accepted context for the listener. Closer You Won't Remember... does uplift itself with an emphasis on melody and the harmonics with Wilkinson's vocals. Even with its short length and complacent/tolerable use of echo and relay, it does generate a much greater sense of humanity and innocence than previous listens. Overall though, Silver Wilkinson sounds and feels more-so like a record comfortably conveying the same visual accompaniment, but never generating as much variance to exactly keep the listener totally attracted. What Bibio achieves in fond atmosphere and sonic richness, he falters in convincing listeners he's not simply swaying to and fro, in some naive bliss.

6.5


Tricky - False Idols

As one of the utmost critics and loathers of the tag he's been constantly associated with, Bristol-born Adrian Thaws has never really seen the highest of acclaim since his 1995 opus Maxinquaye dropped and attracted many a person's ears, and many more a followers' mouths to proclaim this was the trip-hop sound. The irony is that even with Tricky's continuing venture into rock, RnB and electronic ideas, it always seems to inflict a state of deja vu with its listener, no matter how daring or how brave the Bristolian is with discovering something new. False Idols shouldn't be made out to be simply a rehashing or take 5 in that bold quest, but neither does the tracklisting - and its accompanying lengths - suggest perhaps these daring attempts are perhaps as deeply rooted or fleshed out as Thaws perhaps us to believe.
 
What we discover then - whether that be through the simplicity of beats and murky urban tension in opener Somebody's Sins, or the more abrasive, vocally revealing Nothing Matters - is the suggestion perhaps of some state of honesty and self-observant understanding. True, Tricky's role here (as is the case with most of his discography) is being the composer, arranger and producer; vocal support and guest collaborations definitely giving Tricky's darkly lit, gestural moods a finer personal flavour. But when he does resurface, as is the case with the tribal percussion and slow-trod of Valentine, things tend to slow down, but in a way that seems more considered and intimate in its approach. Even if the individual lengths barely detract from the three-minute singularity running through the record, the resurgence of beats and tensity in tracks like Bonnie & Clyde or Parenthesis (which is one of the more volatile, in a positive way, tracks of the lot...and thus an intriguing deviation) show Tricky's expertise in playing patience with his sounds, followed by a letting loose for the sparks to fly.

I wish then that when Tricky hits the mark (because at the end of the day, I can't shake off the feeling what's come before, acts more like a toe-poke into different pools of theme and concept), as is the case with the symphonic, dialogue of Nothing's Changed, the sounds present were, not so much fleshed out - because they certainly feel completed and overly fulfilling - but instead were just a little longer and dictatived to what the album's overall context is. Nevertheless, these moments definitely conjure an emotional engagement with me; like fellow trip-hop name-droppers UNKLE, the balance in beats and instrumentation carves an immersion that’s both new while at the same redefining the very realism of the urban surroundings it so carefully conjures back up. Lyrical content doesn't necessarily come through as strongly or as clear as I would have liked; Is That Your Life ending up the victim to the track's hypnotic groove and frontal beats that here are perhaps are a little too dominating, while We Don't Die - despite its lavish mix of crisp percussion and wobbly guitar notes - makes the mistake of not really giving the vocals the space they require.

Coming into the final quarter, and the listener's preconceived concerns over length and fleshed-out content are unfortunately proven right. Does It, despite its forefinger of a groove in its bass and hand-claps, fails to convince. I'm Ready likewise doesn't feel as fleshed out as previous offerings - the unavoidable, amateurish clamber of percussion the culprit here. And with closer Passion Of The Christ, even though there's a heightening of intrigue with how the mixture of distant horn-like cries and concretizing drumbeats create a greater tension and open atmosphere, the track doesn't exactly go anywhere or lead its listener to any real decisive end point or delivery - feeling evermore deflating than what even a more briefer outro might have offered. And so, while Tricky can't be faulted for pushing his broader interests into full confident view, where his slick, clean production techniques greatly benefit, the execution and balance of certain instrumental relations leave moments on this album in slight disillusion. The emotion and the reasons are there, just not quite matched by the conviction - and yes, the confidence - of the music's shorter and direct choices of length.

6.1

Pharmakon - Abandon

Of all the album covers I've studied and/or passively refuted as being merely decorative accompaniment, the sleeve to US experimental, industrial musician Margaret Chardiet's debut album Abandon - under the Pharmakon moniker - is perhaps the most misleading and wildly deceptive of them all. Where some could be drawn into the deliberate showing of bare legs and nature-spree tones, I myself am not as seduced by such a visage. Nevertheless, the idea that some would perhaps be attracted to this album because of it, is a possibility I cannot, and will not more interestingly, ignore. So for the listener to find themselves drawn into - and end up being pulled by the ankles and bound together as if to ransom - I can't hold back the humorous irony I feel when suspecting the imagery was all part of the ploy all along.

Abandon is, beyond the immediate shock, one of the most extroversive and brash experimental records of the year. It's a record that, as noted, feels unwilling to simply let its sound casually coast off into gentle playback. From the very first regurgitating cry and high-pitch loop of Milkweed / It Hangs Heavy, Pharmakon clearly seeks to express a very brash and volatile going-on. Progressing from looped pitches and violent percussion strikes, the twisting storm of vocals and whaling feedback, suggest that the feeling here is as far from conventional co-existence of melody, rhythm and progression. Her objective then, seems to be challenging the listener, as much as it's about surprising them with bold and sinister surges of mountainous drone and noise-filled scenery. The said surroundings, as we discover on follower Ache, aren't necessarily dark, but they are certainly devoid of life - most likely voided with a kind of haunting cynicism that's not quite nihilistic, but is far from relatable. It's that unclear depth and secrecy-turned-deception that comes to define the music - the challenging stability giving that impeding test and thus, should we survive it, this lingering feeling deep down of a more sentient presence behind such expressive and illicit sound.

The way Pharmakon still holds onto a sense of existence and revealing one's self, is what makes these brash sounds that crucially bit more emotive and imaginative. Even when the music is at its most repetitive, and least evolving as is the case with Pitted, Pharmakon's monk-like chanting and deliberate masking of her own whereabouts lends more mystery to the piece than what the music, unfortunately, offers. Admittedly, the relation between vocals and sound aren't as violent or as conflicting, but behind it the more greying, more industrial-like hints paint an even richer picture as to the root and essence of this music's problematic, self-destructive state. It's left to Crawling On Bruised Knees to certify the industrial leanings this album takes - synths taking a grated, razored turn amidst the rumbled, shattering of sound feeling less than withheld this time round. The track doesn't, however, build or lead on as well as previous tracks - sounds persistently standing their ground as opposed to charging on the offense - but Pharmakon's vocals, which take on a shuddering, wobbly styling throw the listener back to this cold, dank atmosphere greatly emphasized previous.

And so with the twenty-seven minute dominance that is Sour Sap, Pharmakon's power-hungry, metabolically gritted presence begins to seep deeper and deeper into the album's dreaded pit of low-frequency drone-come-destruction. The closing movement to the record plays out perfectly like the final moments before being sucked into a black hole: passing briskly from opening murmurs of bass and frequency lapse; vocal screams dearly calling for escape and a sense of salvation; textural quality crunching and collapsing in; finally passing the track's event horizon whereby all structure and elemental existence falls silent - the sounds of darkening frequencies and ghostly menacing of vocals the only lingering remnant of a content now being contorted and reanimated into something potentially far more gruesome and abstract than previous. Thus, the dire, slightly traumatic, overly callous journey into the dreaded unknown is complete. And while Pharmakon's journey in terms of layered relation and variance in progression, does lack in parts, the very length and intensity she goes to to project this overwhelming, indecipherable state of decay and dismay is both powerful and profound.

7.9

Iron & Wine - Ghost On Ghost
  
Folk and rock enthusiast, Sam Beam's Iron & Wine project always presents itself to me as something of a more show; a festive showcase where ideas actually feel like they're being made for the stage or at the very least, are discerning themselves from the difficulty at which may have persisted Beam's compositions from their initial sketch stage. Beam however, feels like he welcomes the potential showcase - his recent discography exploring an openness that is both modestly prevailing in its honesty, yet without question likely to hold a manner of vulnerability against what that projection might entail. Beam's spacious, open-mic-esque expression then, has done him considerable justice. 2011's Kiss Each Other Clean was an interesting balance of exploratory rock collectives and folk individuality that ended up generating an interesting flurry of instrumentation both inviting yet still profoundly personal and reflective.  

To find 2013's Ghost on Ghost swaying more in the 'showcase' direction; the stage and the performance being Beam's quest, is not without its peculiar interrogation as to how exactly Iron & Wine sounds when taken as a collective of (supposed) individual ideas culminating together. Caught In The Briars without doubt makes no hesitance to define Beam's direct, jam-band liveliness in its crystal clear instrumentation and slightly less desired progress in its tempo. Beam's interest too in jazz accompaniments and groove resurfaces from the off - Iron & Wine sounding less like a soloist in a brave, perhaps brash, World...and more a confident swagger of someone seeking the joy of performing. The Desert Babbler similarly keeps the pacing and momentum at an easily followable rate, but Beam's vocals this time come off studied; seeking towards a greater visage. The groove of percussion and soothing sway of harmony more-so, are what helps in fuelling this track's more studied context. This shift in reaching for a distant image is confirmed on the laid-back, piano-loft Joy - Beam's emotional detail more concisely stern, even if the musical support is intentionally barer and simple by default.

It's a requirement - maybe an unwritten rule, in the wider aspect - to find an album such as this showing a bigger reliance on its contextual variety; sharing with us, perhaps a justification, if not a means, to keep to this humble abode of mid-tempo composites and jazz-influenced shoots of brass and swing. As we get past the initial meet-and-greet, Iron & Wine however doesn't necessarily add or even show a willingness to pick up the pace. Not that the warm, comforting textures and surge of energy of Grace For Saints And Ramblers, fail in soothing its listener into a state of calm and eased enjoyment of the rhythms. But what tracks like Grass Windows or Singers And The Endless songs doesn't quite shift the analogical eye from either one of two envisaged scenarios: that of a mosey abode chock with fresh ale or fire wood...or that of an evening stage performance by a band definitely worth the wait, but not necessarily worth the repeat listen. It's an unfortunate output, because the sounds and particular avenues Beams takes, are both crisp and structurally well-fitting. But even with this assured confidence, the fact the sounds aren't as unafraid of the open environment - as was the case with his previous LP - the decision to keep to such enclosed scenery, feels like a deliberate holding back, and mistake in the long-run.

Because of this, I end up perceiving the scenery to Sundown (Back In The Briars) being that of four simple, monotonously wooden walls; a swirl of percussion and shadowy barber-shop harmonies doing little to take this from out of its tightly-packed imprisonment. The piano, as typical as it may be, does better in suiting to this more interior-decorated dispelling on the track Winter Prayers - Beams' harmony and delicate acoustic plucks emphasizing the visual accompaniment and actually making the vision feel better suited, even going as far as to give the music a reason to be of this humble, enclosed shape. But with the final two tracks, both Lovers' Revolution's desperate clamber for flavorsome jazz to ignite one's taste for rhythm, and Baby Center Stage's unintended draw-of-attention to Beams' dried-out, percussion usage, confirm that Iron & Wine has given more focus on the direct image, and not enough on what exactly it's attempting to entail further. There's little difference offered then, between each of Ghost on Ghost's tracks aside from the occasional gesture and shift from mellow warmth to soothing flutters, and back again. For an album so keenly presented and richly performed, it feels unmistakeably like a one-page dialogue repeated over and over.

5.7   
 
Cloud Boat - Book Of Hours
  
Coming straight off the back of a string of successful guest appearances in support of [personal friend] James Blake, London-based duo Sam Ricketts and Tom Clarke could so rightfully find themselves in the opposite role - the resulting opposite outcome for Blake, as far as my hopeful imagination would like to persist - in future performances with what could be considered (for me, at least) one of the most under-appreciated, and thus, personally treasured records of 2013 thus far. Book Of Hours, the duo's first full-length, plays out like a brief abridging to a much vast and precious interlinking of moods and feelings. Here, on an eleven-track ushering of reserved synthesizers and mellow acoustic instrumentation, Cloud Boat argue their corner to being the fresh face of secluded song-writing with as much a heart and a rhythm to proceed.

Lions On The Beach is a gentle, if forthrightly-moving, comfort for the evening lay-back and vast house-intrigued electronic fans. Behind a stomping plush of drum beats and swelling bass synths, Boat's melding guitar textures and vocal harmonics emphasize the gracious, and considered, measure of emotion and intricacy the duo take into working with detail. Youthern, the first opportunity to showcase this unremitted shift from synth to organic sound (and back again), is as much a timely reminder to minimal electronics' strength, as it is a soothing withdrawal from the ambivalence of social scenery. And even when the emphasis is put on lone acoustic strums and the drawn ambiance these sounds generate, Bastion makes use of Sam Ricketts' held tone to add a humane sincerity and curiosity to the music's latter relay of electric guitars and wary chops of percussion and bass alike.

But it's Drean that truly proves such excelling quality to such a stream of simple and honest notation. Ricketts' hand-plucked strings gently coast beneath his wandering, ghostly vocals; Clarke's own delicate, glow of tone slowly seep in at first, but finally slot neatly into the fold. And despite such bare stature and darkly hollowness that envelops the piece, it gifts Ricketts that additional push to be as intimate and rich as his lyrical flow keenly aims to be. Amber Road is slightly more pushed and concrete in its pulsing beats, but even with the [again] spectral shift, Boat's focus on the delicacy of simplicity (even if the contextual unveiling into what is a very provoking visage of more distanced and dustier guitar strings, feels slightly too ambiguous and ill-defined) does give the record a resounding sense of independence - gorgeously decorated with a kind of uniformed emotion. Cloud Boats, unfortunately, do find prominence in pushing a valueless drive for vocal pitching on You Find Me, but it doesn't stick too far out like a soar thumb.

The duo thus, continue to push their skeletal synth patterns to a more lustful momentum and tenser portrayal in the guitar-straying Wanderlust, while the two-part Pink Grin sees the lengthening guitar strums creep from out of the shadows into the urban friction of percussive beats and distorted clarity. Closer Kowloon Bridge sees melody and structure conjuring a deeper and hopeful fulfillment of unity and understanding; the delicate pattern of guitars phasing in and out of perspective amidst Ricketts' concerning utternace and latter clouds of soft guitars that are both delicately protective, but auspiciously traversed and journeying more-so. By the end however, Cloud Boats' objection to abrupt content and the constancy of instrumentation, leaves with it a dreamy, but vast allure in the album's acute brush of beats and acoustic strumming. Book Of Hours is one of the better minimally structured albums, because of its desired focus on production but also its mesmeric attraction towards the listener's blossoming imagination. Addressing the social and personal involvement of one's self, vocalist Sam Ricketts wonderfully illustrates a sound their close friend may want to take notes from. James Blake, are you listening?

8.2

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