Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Blondes - Swisher


Second Album Syndrome: the cultural-creative diagnosis given to any artist or band whose sophomore shows symptoms in not just failing to capitalize on the debut which preceded it, but too suggests signs of stepping back; playing safe, treading too off-the-cuff to measure any real uniformed understanding. It's not so much a problem - thus no diagnosis is given - when your debut didn't exactly meet the standards expected by your listener base. That by no means relegates Blondes' 2012 debut to that of an entirely failed attempt. Sure, it had its heightened fondness of house hooks and techno maneuverability. But that's where the problems of the record arose: an album chock with thought, but little heart and compassion for what follows...and evidently, what has followed in those two genres' foot-steps. To Brooklyn duo Sam Haar & Zach Steinman, what has to follow is something potentially more beneficial, and potentially riskier by contrast, in being seen in two equally, optimistic lights. Releasing a record a year after their debut? Uploading the album to stream in its entirety up on Youtube a month before the album's release? Such decisions can be perceived bold musters and a sign of confidence, but remain weighed down by the potential to ending up a conveyance of naivety with whiffs of ill-sense. Swisher, on the face of things, doesn't signal any reason to suspect such high-yield tactics have been fruitful; an eight-track album of varying lengths with a minimal cover sleeve that triggers themed mindsets of mechanical repetition and monotony of tone. Biased, yes. The truth? Well...that's a different story.

If there's one thing this album isn't, it's monotonous. Repetitive, maybe...but that by no means gives way to some derogatory attack on what is a record built on further-glimpsing attempts to transgress a sound from its origin of machinery and mechanics to that of the furthest reaches electronics can possibly obtain: space. Aeon deliberately prevents itself from reaching such exospheric heights too soon at this early stage. What it does however is give the record that initial breadth and colourful sprawl of galactic-like stretch of freedom. Throughout, the minute, hush of drums and interlocking swatches of percussion seem to refuse any interjection skyward - instead, slowly building to what will be the inevitable launch-pad away from such imperial mechanics of beat and rhythm. As the four-minute prologue reaches its end, sluggish dubs of percussion build and worm their way into the mix - the blooming hues of the music increasing to their most efficient size. And while the track doesn't swiftly phase the listener into the next offering, the way it fades off almost by some tangible, refutable means, definitely insights a strong readiness to the idea that what we'll be hearing is anything but swift.

So it's here that we dive straight into the album's main chorus of house rhythms and techno opportunism on the [first] nine-minute track Bora Bora, with its singularity of padded bass, timbered drum hits and multilateral evolution of tone and distance. While the first part of the track keeps to its formulaic identity of percussion and bass synths, it's the direct and refractory shift taken up in the latter half that truly stands out. Here, the sounds become more distant and further fledged in colour; echoing synths materializing as the percussion twists and turns until its at its most thinned and infinitely lengthiest. And amongst all this scattered feedback and oscillation, the kick of the bass and percussion continues on, unscathed but feeling pleasantly more integrated into the record's still-developing awareness of space. Andrew soon after borrows from the same 4/4 lead of rhythm, and opens up the music to even greater realms of colour and texture. There's a slightly higher emphasis on melody and groove to this piece, but even so it feels as though Blondes' ambition lies more in visualizing, as well as graphing out, where their sounds are so gallantly traversing towards. Little is explained, admittedly, on the actual distance - more-so on the supposed method to which we/the music reaches such as a point. But in doing so, what occurs as a result is Blondes slowly unveiling the scope to which these star-gazed hues and gaseous mass feels to its listener; vocal sampling suggesting a degree of Orbital-esque enthrall and harmony, while the latter glow of increasing ambient synths suggest (via the most tiniest portions) a textural sereneness that is confounding, yet intriguingly open.


Thus, as we make our way onto Poland, there's an underlining sense - and potential underpinning to the album's overall theme - that the Brooklyn duo are about discovery in its most finest and direct state, rather than something more broader and, potentially, generalized. The point however, and the reason why this decision comes across well, is that Blondes still hold onto the notion that simple aesthetics in rhythm and beats shouldn't be absolitely removed, or even discouraged, if the visage is one of cosmic ideals. What we're offered in this track especially is a piece seemingly adept to a kind of autonomous auto-pilot ease of a journey; house synths and drum rolls clearly coming through almost to the point where the listener begins to imagine the very lights to such hardware blinking in front of them. And yet, the way Blondes progress these leads from such initial repetition - lacing the production with layers of reverb and psychedelic-like translucency - the beats continue to calmly, and unaffectedly, follow the flight-plan they've been preset. But it's the harmonic scale of the track's atmosphere that is the most effective; the once monotonous blinking of lights beginning to convey a kind of evolved state into four-figure gradients of differing hues and tones. It's the tracks close-net relation with the rhythmic synthesizers and the tonal interplay of electronics that gives this stale contention of journeying an incredibly richer and perplexed awe.

But it's not simply a case of there being a higher degree of sonic tone and variance of said element, for the sake of simply being. What I find intriguing about Blondes' take and work-around response to describing more cosmic scenarios - in such a way that doesn't necessarily integrate the concept of distance to such far-flung regions - is that they're able to triangulate such rich, and surprisingly soothing, imagery in a way that remains feeling predominantly synthesized. Maybe not in a mechanical, analytical manner, but likely one that's far more perplexing and challenging, yet tangible from even our own personal earthly abode. The ways in which the track Clasp especially, opens with an impending swirl of synths and dubbed beats gives the presence of questioning one's surroundings, but not necessarily detailing it beyond any incomprehensible measure of understanding. The sounds presented, instead use this auspicious toning and out-of-line rhythm, to convey something bizarrely more mysterious and speculative about the locale of our own World. And with title track Swisher's urban flavor of beats, Blondes definintely come across less suggestive of space as this beyond-Earth void of stars, gas and other cosmic wonders, but more focally to it being this ominous presence even in the most enclosed and dulled of scenarios. here. Yet the ways in which the synthesizer patterns morph and mold their way around the drums gives this bass-heavy percussion a less monotonous shade, and thus appears to suggest that even in such locale, there's still a fascination and degree of voyage to be discovered both sonically and mentally.

With that said, the album for its latter half definitely shifts attention from space to that of the social/cultural solidity here on Earth - that of New York's littered suburbs or London's post-adolescent outskirts maybe. And while the heavier, and more focused, use of bass and percussion comes across sternly on Rei, there's a niggling lack of that same lush psychedelia that was so favorable in the album's first half. More-so, this lessening of tone and colour to the mix - while conjuring vibes suited to that of the more urban landscapes - doesn't necessarily provide the same longevity and appeal to a track that nestles so contently in this nightclub-fond dance of beats. Even when the duo try their hand at carving more emotive palettes of synthesizer electronics into the music, it comes off more shunted and disconcerting than what previous attempts had so valiantly projected - at worst, it feels lazy and not as thoughtful as the tracks that preceded it. But that's in no way offense to Blondes' beat-driven components, which still manage to accomplish that resurgence of late evening partying among its repetitive, but concise production. Some of the closing moments whereby Blondes try to generate that same atmospheric wonder like on follower Wire - even if built more around this cultural scenery - are interesting to say the least, just unfortunately not as enthralling or as eye-widening as earlier tracks definitely were. But for certain, the duo's use of crisp and, to contrast that, very sleek and smooth textures gives the tracks' formulaic delivery that extra kick. And with Elise, the closing track, Blondes present themselves as artists; as musicians, as producers, as simple fans of the electronic music umbrella, in the most playful but careful-minded stance they've expressed so far. The way the track opens with a simple lead of beats to then manifest into this charming composite of string pitches and accompanying electronic tone, feels both miraculously fleshed out yet enthralling to simply venture through.

I won't lie and call this is an album that, in bias, aims to focus merely on the more concrete and absolute of beats and synthesis that electronic music has to offer. It's clear as we venture through Swisher that Blondes make sure the controls over effects and things such as distortion and reverb are close by, but I don't necessarily think this ends up a deciding factor into how beneficial or hindering this use is on the album's core aesthetic of simple drum rhythms and synthesizer sounds. What Blondes have created - and too what their artistic message seems to convey - is how mountainous and excelling the once titonic House sound can be in an age full of post-production and pre-planned decisions on how to affect proceedings. The great thing here then is that the Brooklyn duo, across the majority of this nine-track LP, manage to project a kind of undiscovered mystery and awe as to the effect House music can have away from the traditional reach of the dancefloor or the humble listening room, that their uncovering literally feels like something new. Here, things are incredibly more open to that of the cosmic depth, yet in its stability in keeping to the genre's use of 4/4 timing and one-after-another rhythms, the result never comes across too withdrawn from the original aesthetic of creating driving and captivating electronic sounds. There are on occasions where Blondes' reverting to solid ground doesn't quite match sonics tendency and beat generation. But overall, this is still one of the better reminders as to the simple and undiluted quality House music remains in possession of when taken directly with little distraction. And while their composition skill and use of atmospherics can be seen as thin, in actuality it's lesser not because it's underdeveloped, but rather more a minor appearance, only because it's at long last been discovered, and experienced thereafter.
~Jordan

8.0 

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