Monday, 15 July 2013

oOoOO - Without Your Love


Like many of you no doubt, I felt slightly askew when I first saw the term witch-house cropping up on internet forums - my mind automatically painting, among others, a make-up-drenched recluse playing garage-tightened drone or muddled effect-drenched guitar music. Imagine my surprise when I discover that it was the tag given to perhaps one of the more interesting paths electronic music has taken as of the past few years. With the likes of Salem, Lake R▲DIO (feel free to C+V the triangle if you can't find it) and oOoOO surfacing about the web and having their aliases whistling through people's ear canals and computer screens as of late, it's become the literal sound of post-digital-age producers seeking the darkly liveliness to situate themselves amongst. The latter individual however is more likely the most prominent and self-initiated of artists to take this rule of engagement, and stand against it. Pronounced 'oh', the name to which musician and producer Christopher Dexter uses, seeks to capture electronic music at its most frequented, oscillated and refractory. But with a pair of EPs released under the infamous, and quite selective, Tri-Angle Records - a flagship label for the less-bliss of electronic sub-genres - oOoOO's sound is more a tempting and seductive hollow of textural display that, ironically, aims to dispel the very allusion of love, no matter the environment. Especially with release titles such as Our Love Is Hurting Us, and here his his debut LP Without Your Love, Greenspan's message seems to be both discreet yet profoundly extrovert over the idea that love in its most intimate and/or abstractly-defined of forms, is anything but pleasing. 

In saying this, oOoOO's sound however by no means fully contradicts the message he's sought to express over the course of his two preceding EPs; here pushing his style of minimal beats to an even denser and potentially stagnate extreme in its isolation and its romantic desolateness. Sirens begins the record with a palpable shudder of low frequency bass rumbles and string-like whales - greeting us throughout by a vocal lead less human in stature, but more as a faint after-image of likely what's been before. All the while, the track's contrasting element of laying slabs and slabs of electronic effects atop these tiny fractured reminisces of instrumentation - tiny pockets of piano and violin trailing through the claustrophobia - gives the listener a morbid and modest vibe of loneliness, but never something that pushes the tensity of the situation further. Follower Stay Here though is where Dexter seems to shift towards contesting (maybe even doubting) his own line of thought on love and romance; a new viewpoint appearing to peel through the melancholic electronics in regards to, it seems, the benefits of a new relationship (a second chance) as opposed to the hindrances. 'I feel so alone, why don't you just stay here/Brings more than summer skies are letting go.' But the way the percussion holds onto the uncertain nature of previous - its dense weight carried in half-note's that lead onto more fractured, quarter-note/eighth note variables thereafter, giving the track's latter legato of glazed synth keys a sort of personal doublethink: that while oOoOO seems convinced love can work, deep down there's an equal tremour of conviction that the long-term effects aren't worth it after all.

Admittedly, the intensity to Dexter's chosen semantics on love and relationships (excuse the pun) marry best when his sounds aren't left to simply dawdle about a space, even if the space in question surfaces up a well-thought gain in positivity. The transition of mood from 3:51 AM's brief, slow-nodding of dormant electronics and settled (albeit slightly nervy) lead of beats isn't exactly the most fulfilling or credible of deliveries to give the title track's accorded presence, it's turn in the murky, dullness of the album's spotlight. And while there is an intriguing mix of melody and harmony in the vocals and the more intimate tone of synthesizers, the drum beats don't exactly share such sentimentality. The texture and indeed the quality to the percussion never really add or go as far as to reiterate the possibly higher-reach of emotion oOoOO is aiming for here. Add on the fact that the track never really seems to readjust or orientate itself to a given set objective or musical identity (is this a bluesy production or an electronic muttering?) what emotion and feeling of empathy shared with us, ends up coming across more some hollow and artificial imitation of its true, human equivalent.

That's not to say the problem lies with the decisions taken over what layers, such as the percussion, sound like is wrong. The problem I have with this record is that I, on a number of occasions, feel oOoOO's philosophy that minimalism equates to a grander and bolder (if not greater) focus on atmosphere and its dialogue of its concept, not only blinds him from the obviousness of its supposed appeal, but too comes at the cost of his awareness to how individual components: synths, keys, effects...and yes, the percussion...sound when put into a composition that is evidently more about the sonic vibe than it is the audible structure of the piece. On It is where Dexter demonstrates a better understanding of translating his eagerness to illustrate and create, and using that to engineer the very sounds of which he puts faith in. The main lead of hi-hat's still keep to that even-number signature of 4/4 timing. But their integrity - and even their presence - come off as ghostly and phazed-out as the vocals appear to reiterate. Dexter's vocals too come across more close and thoughtful, yet the refusal shown to not be as substantial or as stern in his directness, gives the music's regurgitating of fade-in's and shaky synth reverb, that clearer context given that the overall vibes being generated, remain afixed to one of uncertainty, and a much greater welling of internal anxiety.

I can definitely see a more pop-like versatility coming through in Dexter's song-writing as well - perhaps this in result of the producer's mantra to try and escape the shoe-horn identifiers to which he has been categorized under previous. And while  his own take on lack-of-light electronics makes no attempt to hide away on the track Moucheete, the slightly more rhythmic and less-conjuring work-around oOoOO seems to express, suggests not only an interest, but a confidence too in being able to write verse-chorus-verse-styled compositions in electronics. And surprisingly, the boldness and the directness to which Dexter stamps across the music's squirming of bass frequencies and icy string sets pays off in what is a track that is never fully embraced in the halogen lights of RnB or urban vocalization, but neither seems to want to project that darkly abode in the same measure of emotive vexing. The South, following soonafter, builds upon that confidence with what is a much rowdier and pumping congestion of grainy synthesizers and pulped bass lines. Drumbeats especially present to us this increased liveliness - and thus, potential for everything to slip over into more chaotic territories - in its crunchier textures that freely glitch atop the hustle of sounds, and in others creating a gestural fling back towards a sharper, crisp pin-pricking of tone.

But in the moments when oOoOO returns to focusing on the vibe and the implications of his surrounding - as is the case on Misunderstood - its result is one of encouragement, though unfortunately conjures a shrill disappointment in equal measure. Dexter's pacing of dense bass and slight conjures of electronics that soon ignite the piece later on, do give off a much sleeker and polished rhythm to what is still a gloomier (perhaps through a bias that the more interior gatherings as noted in preceding tracks, are always the better option) and unsettling scenario to even attempt. But overall, while he manages to surmise this visage into what feels more insecure and pressured than perhaps what is offered, the fact the track never pushes itself to move beyond the initial ten steps passed the front door - a recluse still in refusal to break away from one's comfort zone - feels more a missed opportunity in better illustrating the personally-felt antagonism of the wider environment, than necessarily a lack of structural or audible quality. Across A Sea then ends up closing an album already weighed down by the looseness and sparsity that's come before it. Dexter's response it seems is to express this desired spatial and relative ambiguity, with what is a more sonically-spanned breadth of hollow piano keys and pitch-lowered callings. Emotionally, the feelings offered in the track's anonymity of instrumentation and organic latency, suggests this is neither a positive nor a negative climax to the oOoOO narrative. It instead feels confounded; lost in its own trivial ambiguity, ending up eventually devoid of any remaining moral or existential feeling on romance or emotion. And ultimately, as a result, the environmental hostility and close-net intimacy of seclusion seem to lose their impact - ending up one and the same, but vaguely effective more-so.


There's an attempt, for certain, to break away from the supposed 'establishment' of underground music and bleak, darkly electronics. And for a guy who was once a contemporary on the same label to the likes of Balam Acab & Holy Other, it's no wonder that Chris Dexter has attempted to pave his own path and [re]discover his own ideal in a sub-genre that - like all musical deviation - always runs the risk of coming up with one too many dead-end imitations without reason. The unfortunate turn-about of Without Your Love is not that it runs too far off oOoOO's original course; if anything, Dexter's debut LP feels more refined and focused-around than what his previous EP's experimented and tested with. But in doing so, the concentrically thoughtful vibes and deep reasoning put forth for expressing such low-frequency sound and high-frequency contrasts, remains vacantly sparse in long-play form, when offering a sound by which to appease us. It's this lack of depth in focus - the falter being with its composing of sound towards that of a full body work in both vibe and tensity - that comes to haunt oOoOO's delivery...in the wrong way. As an artist striving for a narrative not overly dramatic or interlaced - but still wanting such an element to be identified as holding at least some leverage on the music's navigation - there are moments on here where that luxury on emphasizing affliction to a subject, not only loses itself in translation, but so too the original source/reason for such hostility - both emotionally and conceptually - doesn't quite appear to be all there.
~Jordan

6.5  

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