Monday, 13 January 2014

Patterns - Waking Lines


'We are from Manchester but we are not defined or limited by what that entails', so says the second line in the brief autobiographic detail to Mancunian four-piece, Patterns, on their artist website. In some respects this is an understandable remark to make; from the off-set Patterns are no strangers to the analogy of wearing their influences on their sleeves. But at the same time, as I've made a point of on numerous album reviews concerning Manchester-based acts, the Northern English city is a host to many a musical sound. To attempt some disengaging with it - out of creative flurry understandably - makes for some interesting, but potentially daring, reading between the lines. Coming then to debut Waking Lines, the question seems to shift away from what exactly the band's influences are (of which I'll cover of course), and more a case/concern on where it is Patterns are vying to project themselves, away from their musically-rich heritage up in the North-West. 

This Haze is a perfect surmise to what Patterns attempt to implement, rather than begin with, on a fair amount of tracks. Initially, the opener jumps straight into the melodic lead of the piece; swirling guitar distortion via My Bloody Valentine coast behind a front of percussion, twitching guitar plucks and androgynous vocals courtesy of Claran McAuley. There's no stretched build-up, yet there doesn't need to be. The coiling reverb and fog of harmony surrounding does enough to already cement Patterns' dream-pop ambition - mixed with shoegaze flair - as something clearly venturous, even if the latter section, which sees thunderous cymbal crashes and high-reaching vocals, potentially blur any and all appeal of the song's original colour. Follower Blood is as equally driven to have its melody ride the crest of this torrent of soaked production. And even with the glisten of drumbeats and guitars meddled with a touch of effects, there's at least enough of a choral strive to prevent Patterns from sounding completely lost to their own translucent glee. Even if the band come across less like an outfit marginalising instruments to sound fit for live recording, and more like the countless bedroom-based producers of the chillwave sector whom prioritize atmosphere and effect over anything, tracks like Broken Trains still offer (if not convince) that their aesthetic is broader than just that of recent electronic specialities.  

The emphasis on percussion as well as the particular tone of vocal harmonies give off a very emphatic 80's vibe, be it the more pop-orientated ideas of the time, or again the immersive vocal qualities to shoegaze. In moments such as these, regardless, there's an almost investigative and thus intriguing depth to Patterns' influence - both instrumentation and vocals taking the best of past genres without necessarily carbon-copying to the point of running blind into said time period. But it's Face Marks whereby Patterns' strive for both melody and rhythm come together to deliver a track part recollect in their influences, but at the same time manages to balance itself out with a direct clarity hardly seen up to this point. While McAuley still remains treating his voice with a softening glaze of effects, the pounding of bass drums, accompanying percussion and guitar strings that weave in and out, provide an efficient and welcome pace that the listener can recognize, without having to strain their ears to pick up. In the end it's one of the few occassions where Patterns' exhuberence in digital manipulation and post-production - the emphasis on synthesizer treatment and the like - manages to push the positives of the song-writing as well as altering it all-round.

To hear such catapulting hypnotics of sound achieve a succession such as this, it's a shame then that the efforts placed on the record thereafter never really, ideally, capitalize on this newfound aggression mixed with transgression as their sound clearly hopes to build on. In the end, as the listener soon finds out across the album's latter half of whimsically dizzying offerings, the band's name and intention to strive for a higher cosmos of sound using past successes, ends up little more than twisted irony. For a band called Patterns, their songs indeed come across as repeated sequences too afraid to flinch, let alone run entirely off on a new tangent. Admittedly the greater focus on texturally-coaxed harmonics on the title track do give off an interesting Animal Collective vibe, even if the backing instrumentation isn't as daring or as uplifting as said band's discography has been known to entail, when taking it away from the regularity of build-up's towards a crescendo as Patterns seemingly continue to confine themselves to. Likewise, the track Street Fires in all its initial promise with its garage-jostling electric strums and solitary drum hits, sets its sights on attempting to establish a base which feels all too stagnant and lacking in the very colourful push the band attempt in the choral sweeps that go about (again) ascending into mid-flight. Even if listeners get a consolidary smile from hearing the same psychadelic-leaning swish from Panda Bear as they will from the vocals, they don't quite make up for the flaw in Patterns' sticking to this established norm they appear to be unaware of.

Induction fortunately makes a step in the right direction in that we find Patterns' indie/post-punk interests - of which have nestled quietly beneath denser layers up to this point - come to the forefront, be it for a brief period of four minutes. Even still the fact the band give the sprawling guitar strings and vocals some deserved space throughout the verse sections, does at least show a deviation away from the band's previous necessity to orchestrate everything at once. Even more benefiting, there's no adamancy in laying down crescendo's atop McAuley's voice, which its extra space, allows the singer to demonstrate a bit more of a honest range to his voice rather than having it drowned by walls of effects and distortion as was the case previous. Even the relay of guitars that sneak into the closing parts don't ruin what is a just moment where rhythm and pacing come up, at long last, trumps. And while Climbing Out again falls backwards upon this favourably welcome momentum, the beat sequencing and arrangement of percussion does at the very least seem to emphasize much strongly Patterns are capable of fleshing out their song-writing when choosing to minimize instrumentation, as opposed to maximizing it.

Last year I reviewed three acts which faced an equal share of scrutiny on how they themselves approached particular fields of effect-laiden music for the contemporary age that was 2013. Where Ex Cops, No Joy & Small Black all had differing outcomes in how they pushed sound to achieve an effective delivery in both song-writing and a sense of appeal, Patterns' particular case lies in how they've tied all three areas of dream pop, shoegaze and a peaking of chillwave to give their indie attitude the punch it so clearly vies to exert. Waking Lines can't be faulted for its exuberance and passion to make itself the unilateral, kaleidoscopic essential in any dream-pop library. Yet it's this desire that unfortunately prevents not just the Manchester four-piece's debut from reaching climbatizing heights in its dizzying ambition, but also makes a large bulk of their track-listing feel relatively confined to the same set of ideals in desperation, instead of certainty. Ultimately Patterns' blissful and quite lost eagerness doesn't entirely feel itself confident, and in result, the loss of clarity and projection only weakens what should be (on multiple ocassions) a song striving for powerful awakening. Here's hoping Patterns can build on this, because as much as electronics can help build upon a composition, it can just-as-equally reduce it in its stature.
~Jordan Helm

6.6

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