Lauren Bousfield – Avalon Vales (2013)

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The new year is upon us at last, and with it HearFeel’s second birthday. But it’s not quite that time yet, and to finally break the dry spell we have the debut from Lauren Bousfield with the eclectic Avalon Vales.

It’s hard to talk about an album you’re obsessed with but for reasons you can’t fully explain or justify. Some albums just capture me in a specific way, get me off-guard at the right time and I just fall in love. Avalon Vales is not a conventional album and I didn’t expect myself to grow to love it as much as I do, but here we are. Toeing the line somewhere between Glitch, IDM, Breakcore and Modern Classical, it’s certainly an ambitious and heavy genre set, and somehow it all comes together.

“Fire Sale”‘s warped and reversed electronica growls and bends explosively into view. It’s spastic and insane, but touches on something that feels so familiar yet so alien, like some piece of classical music we’ve loved but seen twisted into destruction. “Riverrun Humbling Allegory” allows us to see the bigger picture with syncopated drum machines and stuttering glitch fragments, but carving for itself a relatively consistent and followable melody, and it’s more akin to what’s to follow, while one of my favourites “Avalon Sliding Down The Cliff” still seems to be holding onto a more IDM rooted sound but entrenches the grooves just a little further with its mashed vocals and thick, wet synth basslines.

“No More Worlds Like This” finally gives us a taste of the piano we’ve all been yearning for, and it’s quite the juxtaposition; the beautiful solo introduction spills into a track that doesn’t know where to hold itself, like some kind of bastardised orchestral piece with its haunting choral vocals mixed with ferocious organ-like synth riffs and screaming noise smears. It’s intoxicating. Couple this with the Breakcore monster “Cracknight” and you’ve got a set of haunting tracks but for different reasons. Repetitive lyrics sandblasted under a veneer of noise accompany those monstrously abused pianos once more in something that could almost be called Dark Wave. It’s so abrasive and powerfully driven it’s difficult to not get dragged under its bleak surface.

“Valed” turns around to tell us there’s still some innocence left in the album as it abandons the electronic horrors to return to the piano and naive female vocals. But it’s hasty and rushed, still propelled forwards rapidly as it runs from the abusing tide of digital knobs and dials. “Lipstick Smeared Over The Amaretto” is another stunner as it continues that hasty female lead style with vastly reverbed synths and impatient pianos, the words lost under a sea of instrumentation. The relative intimacy of the two previous tracks takes a turn as the starker electronic returns in the aptly titled “Cascading Retail Spaces” in its flurry of chopped and screwed voices and sharp details.

The points where the album is perhaps the weirdest are the points I love it the most; “Audkyrie” follows in a vein similar to stunner “Valed” with its melted vocals and insanely twisted synth lines but it takes it to the next level as it piles vast texture on top of texture, crushing whatever existed of the original instrumentation into the digital void on its journey to maximalist perfection. And it only gets bigger with longest track of the album “Somerset Blather On and On” at a meagre 5 minutes that ebbs and flows, flooding the senses in pulses of rapidfire beats but also subduing them in lulls of fuzzed drone, but it rarely stands still for long.

The closing tracks of the album still seem to be determined to drive us away; even in the softly titled “Heavening”, where we have the greatest array of vocals we’ve seen thus far, Bousfield still maintains a level of disconnection by obscuring their meaning as they lap onto one another amidst a daunting piano overture, pushing them further back into their shadow. Lastly, closer “Our Trauma” has to be something to close the album on a bang and it certainly does deliver. Crushing pulses of skittering synths, wails of dense reverb and the wobbles of 808s drive a piece that sounds every bit as broken and distraught as its namesake. It’s fucking enormous to put it bluntly, and it’s astonishing when that “chorus” drives home those danceable beats.

Avalon Vales is an experience alright. It never lets up but it never gets to the point where it’s overwhelming, and it’s never predictable. Even after as many listens as I’ve subjected it through I’m still finding new parts to crush me or get me in the groove, it’s still surprising and still dynamic. There’s something so brilliant in the construction and production of every track, like an orchestral or classical masterpiece skewed into reckless digital oblivion, that makes it so deeply compelling. A must listen.

 

Abstractive Noise – Of The Adder’s Bite (2013)

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I think there’s an expectation raised before you listen to certain albums based on the album artwork and some of the genre descriptors, a promise that you’re going to get a certain experience out of an album. I try not to think about these things beforehand but it’s difficult to avoid, and with Abstractive Noise’s Of The Adder’s Bite there comes an expectation of big, bold and dark music, but one that fails to materialise.

The premise here is that it is a concept album, a journey through a machine-world in which the male protagonist in his travels discovers is a woman (or a woman in the form of a machine). It’s quite an unusual concept, one that perhaps does not make itself superficially obvious; first to be explored is the first chapter, the realisation of the machine’s existence. It’s opened by “Outcast” by lonely and slowly swelling drones as we come to. Vision materialises quickly and there is something of a mechanical feel to the repetitive sequences of violins and hushed percussion, but it’s slow and even at its peak never really feels grand or big. It tumbles into the machinations of…”Machine (Phase 1)”, a short interlude that finally begins to hint at space in its dark sub-bass currents, combined with aggressive and cold glitch fragments writhing over the top. Phase 2 is significantly more active as it moves away into more expanded melodies and rigourously structured music, but it has replaced all emotion with pretty unassuming and uninteresting recombinations of the same constructions we’ve heard for the last 10 minutes. Admittedly the staccato footfalls in the abrupt final throes are pretty cool and menacing.

The second chapter is presented as being the struggle for escape. “Trap” finally has some frantic energy to it that I’ve  been waiting for; the violins are as highly strung as they’ve ever been but there’s an alarming pace in the underlying cellos(?) and powerful percussion that sets things into a flat spin. There are then moments of despair and hopelessness in the next effort, here in the first movement of the title track. Piano is introduced for the first time with powerful effect, crushing the pacing and with slow stringed wails sending us into a pit of despair. It is something of an overdone moment though, exaggerating this plight somewhat, and it switches gears abruptly into the more surreptitious and plotting “Vengeance”, the uselessness of the previous track suddenly abandoned in favour of sharper and more determined music. Little xylophones ring out in the dark and the plucked and manipulated strings set out this tiptoeing and creeping image, deviously working in the candlelight.

Lastly, the final chapter presents us of the realisation that our escape is not possible. “Poisonous Well” begins to proposition this idea of acceptance; seemingly the plans from “Vengeance” have not materialised and we’re left with the broad swathes of, well I’m not quite sure how to describe it. The music is stylistically close to everything else we’ve heard so far so there’s not much to go on. It’s a bit more downtrodden I suppose, more resigned. This is especially true in the second movement of the title track; faint screams can be heard in the distance alongside the sad creaks of doors and other mechanical oddities in some quiet corner of this terrible machine. The violins are back to serenade us through this clichéd experience, but it is touching despite it. Frustrated bangs and smashes punctuate the quieter moments in madness. Finally, closer and longest track “of Betrayers and Betrayed” takes us out over its 10 minute span. It’s content to simply soldier on through, suck it up and just deal with it, but sadly that means we’re presenting with a relatively unwavering and unchanging track throughout, not migrating far from the usual, almost boring at this point, combinations of limited strings and percussion.

It’s a nice idea and concept, but I’m sceptical as to how well it can be deciphered through the music alone without reading the press kit. On my first listen without the context I felt the album as a whole felt pretty loose and not particularly progressive, and I still maintain that there is a disappointing amount of variety. I just wish it had more ferocity, a bit more fire in the belly that would just make it a little more entertaining and dramatic; some noise here and more glitch fragments there. Well executed and produced but a bit thin in the ideas department, using the overarching concept as something of a crutch.

 

Discodeine – Swimmer (2013)

It’s been a peculiar week where I’ve not felt particularly inspired by anything. Following on from Burial’s surprise EP release has been pretty tough for me and I haven’t consumed anything since that’s really caught me in the same way. Luckily, French House duo Discodeine sort of made their way onto my radar with their sophomore release Swimmer.

I know that in the past I’ve been hesitant to tackle Electronic Dance Music but sometimes it’s just so insatiable and catchy that’s it’s difficult to deny, especially when it comes in a package as meaty yet compact as this 30 minute groover. Opener “Seabox”cruises in on a bed of pattering percussion and thick synth lines, only to be followed up by breathy vocals and faux piano.

“Why eat fresh meat”

He whispers enigmatically, although one of the clearer lines that cut through the mix. It’s a swirling, sub-tropical amalgamation of groovy, simplistic textures and it sets out the structure of the album to follow reasonably well. Follow up “Dry By” strips things back a bit more, paring the instrumentation right back to the synths and making the vocals even more breathy. It’s a rising and falling tide, working up into flurries of excitable sound at the peak of the choruses as the sung aspects come into their own, but keeping things low key and limited when they’re less impassioned. There’s lots of bleary electronic rushes of sunny noise and wiggling synths and it’s all painfully Summery.

It segues beautifully into lead single “Aydin”, which decides not to cruise anymore and set out a definitive and strong rhythm in the drum machines and piercing violin strings and deep, flanged synth basslines. It’s got an inherent darkness but also a grander scope than the preceeding tracks that makes it decidedly more ambitious and empowered, forcing its way against the current. Contrast this against “Dive Wet”, which somehow manages to juxtapose a Microhouse piece against the tumult of electronica we just went through. Once again its spoken word delivery and creeping melodies make for a dark and brooding atmosphere, shuffling along at an almost awkward pace but keeping just enough structure to propel it onward, despite the repetitive lyrics.

Thus largely ends the reign of the vocal lead tracks; much of the rest of this pretty short release is focused on the melodies alone. “Slip Slow” reaffirms the dark intents of “Dive Wet” with its drone currents and syncopated drum flurries amidst a creeping, minimal electronic riff, reflections bobbing and rippling in the wake of some dark ship. Fortunately this streak is interrupted by the relatively more jovial “Hydraa” which finally comes along to shine some light through the lingering dark spell with repetitious, solid beats and fluffy synth riff clouds. The cool “Shades of Cyan” is positively Hawaiian with its crooning guitars and excitable percussion, a bright and shimmering piece that’s as relaxing as it is danceable.

It’s hard to believe this sweet little piece moves into the 4/4, club ready “Liquid Sky” with such ease; it’s such a 90’s throwback track it sounds like I’m listening to the soundtrack of Wip3out or something, especially during the middle with those sawblade whines and the huge reverb and not to mention the female coos and waahs that permeate the multiplicity of textures it tumbles into in its heavy closing moments. The sweet 26 second interlude of “Vox” is an odd decision since it throws a glowing drone into the space between two rather driven tracks, but closer “Plum Blossom” more than makes up for this oversight. Flanging those weird backing synths once again it ties in all the delicious sounds of the album into one space, creating a tropical, Hawaiian vibe whilst also marrying it with somewhat darker and more ominious sounds in the more oppressive beats. It remains largely upbeat though with its fun 303s stuffed into the background and the even livelier drums and cymbals thrust above.

As always I’m pretty terrible when it comes to talking about music like this, but what I can tell you is that it’s fun, cheeky, occasionally propped with limited but compositionally useful vocals and nicely but not cheesily simplistic. It’s got a decent production quality and sometimes repetitive but pretty sweet tropical beats, perfect for these Wintry times.