Zola Jesus – In Your Nature (2012)

I was going to write a review on John Talabot’s new electronic album fIN, but then I realised how incredibly bored I was listening to it and writing about it, so I thought I’d write something up real quick on Zola Jesus’s new single In Your Nature.

The single is comprised of the unmodified original and a David Lynch remix. Zola, aka Nika Danilova, has confessed to normally turning down remix requests but decided to allow Lynch a crack at his interpretation of In Your Nature. She told Pitchfork that:

“When David Lynch asks to remix your song, you let him.”

The original is basically the epitome of her previous album Conatus; it rises up on a bed of strings and fairly complex percussion, slowly becoming more active and textural. All the while Danilova’s vocals are becoming bigger and more…guttural? Forcing out the lyrics in that deep and chesty manner that only Zola Jesus can pull off as she reaches the chorus.

David Lynch’s interpretation is stripped back and minimal, laying bare the  soaring vocals. Sticking to a simple bassline accompanied by sparse, slightly reverbed guitar, the remix is altogether darker with a greater emphasis on Danilova’s voice that the multi-textural original covered up slightly. The percussion is punchy and forceful though, giving it some real traction to work from.

I’m really tempted to get the 7″, especially since I recently picked up Conatus on wax. We’ll see; I certainly enjoy it enough to warrant a purchase. Good listen, good remix, pretty good way to get into her work. For lovers of dark wave and art pop.

7/10

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Chairlift – Something (2012)

Back from an extended hiatus following their 2008 debut Does You Inspire You? and having dropped a band member in the process, Chairlift return triumphantly in 2012 with their sophomore release Something.

80’s synth pop is something of a guilty secret of mine; I don’t listen to a great deal of it because I find an overwhelming quantity of it to be kitsch and overdone, but sometimes an artist comes along that doesn’t take the cliche to the extreme and makes a really compelling listen. Chairlift are exactly that.

I love openers, me, so when I heard the cheeky yet oddly half-serious “Sidewalk Safari” for the first time and got immediately hooked, I was hopeful the rest of the album would perform; how right I was. Playful yet edgy, synth wibbles and wobbles over Polachek singing about running someone over with her car, perhaps an indirect reference to the lost band member? But there is not time to stand still and mull it over because the rest of the album looms, and the outlook’s good.

The fairly generic love song that is “Wrong Opinion” moves briskly into my undeniable favourite “I Belong In Your Arms”; a super-charged euphoric masterpiece, Polachek’s voice sounds spine-tinglingly breathless and  hypnotic as she pushes it to the max. Everything just sounds so big and bold and confident, it’s perfection. We get the same love induced rush in “Met Before”, where once again we have swooping, intoxicating vocals backed up by relentless and maximalist synth and guitar. “Amanaemonesia” takes a similar yet slightly different route; summoning up ambiguous lyrics that would make Destroyer proud it bumps the pace up several notches from the super downtempo yet honestly heartfelt “Cool As A Fire”/”Ghost Tonight” duo, picking up pace before riding in on a wave of airy, funky synth. This is just about the most shamelessly 80’s track on the album and it’s great, although some might find it overwhelming.

The last three tracks get a bit more introverted, turning to more acoustic instrumentation in “Frigid Spring”, and the masking of the vocals in a sea of reverb in “Turning” reminds me strongly of the Cocteau Twins in a weird way. The pace and synth is dialled way down, relying instead on Polachek’s impressive vocal versatility on the final track “Guilty As Charged”, where there is a breathy submissiveness and acceptance coupled with a powerful confidence strengthened by the blatting drum pulse. If you don’t like synth pop but want to explore the strength of her voice, this is the track to listen to.

If you haven’t realised it already, I’m a sucker for Caroline Polachek’s vocals, they’re fucking delicious. She displays impressive diversity, from the euphoric highs of “I Belong In Your Arms” to the reserved, textural “Turning”. There’s an emotional depth here that the (almost cheesy) 80’s  instrumentation cannot support alone that Polachek injects into, balancing everything flawlessly.

7.5/10

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)

Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, M83’s epic double-album successor to the astounding Saturdays = Youth.

“Midnight City” was my introduction to M83. Released a few months prior to the album, it was the perfect hook. Its unique and addictive riff, gargantuan but suitably enigmatic vocals and its gorgeous sax outro made it one of the best singles of the year for me and I’m still going back and loving it even now, but would M83’s newest release live up to the expectations it was set, and would it be bigger and bolder than his greatest work Saturdays = Youth?

Welcome to Anthony Gonzalez’s fantasy world, or to be more specific his 80’s childhood. Drawing up nostalgia for his since-passed youth and riding the 80’s aesthetic wave currently saturating the music biz at the moment, Hurry Up oscillates back and forth from the emotional lows of “Wait” and “Splendor” to the euphoric highs of “Midnight City” and “Claudia Lewis”, like the confused hormones of the teenager it reminisces over. Things appear to have become more diffuse since Saturdays, Gonzalez’s vocals becoming bigger, bolder, more ambitious, but even less clear; the slow deterioration of memory perhaps? Yet others, like the passionate “Reunion” and the cute child’s voice of “Raconte-Moi Une Historie”, stand out with amazing clarity. The somewhat mysterious and ambiguous nature of the lyrics still remains true to his style, however, and if anything their impact has increased several fold as a result of Gonzalez pushing it further than ever.

The jam-packed first disc moves along to the somewhat more subdued second disc. The thrills and euphoria of D1 are replaced with more wistful numbers, like the opener “My Tears Are Becoming A Sea”, where Gonzalez’s heartfelt vocals are met with huge synth and heavy percussion, and “Splendor”‘s beautiful piano, gentle guitar and uplifting chorals. The stunning “OK Pal” and “Year One, One UFO” perfectly counterbalance these downtempo tracks with progressive and heady synth, the only true vestiges of cheesey 80’s synth here, followed up by the devastatingly heartfelt “Steve McQueen”;

“I just can’t recognise myself

Tears of joy all over my face

My sensations reach the limit

Nothing can hurt me today”

But spinning this out onto 2 discs was unnecessary. There’s just over an hour of material within the two combined, he could very easily have made this a single but I can also see why he didn’t. The flow of this album is damn near perfect; something about breaking the bigger tracks up between instrumental filler tracks (with ambience ala Digital Shades) makes this much easier to digest. It both complements the more active tracks by slowing down the pace, but at the same time it also frustratingly breaks the flow set by the more powerful tracks that fall in sequence (1-3 on the disc 1 for example). A love-hate relationship for me, one that does ruin the experience for me a little.

An extremely competent album by a seasoned musician and a truly worthy successor to Saturdays = Youth. The only question left is: How is he going to beat this next time?

9/10