Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Record Review, Finally.

For all the discussion on the ultimate purpose of art, sometimes it can all be boiled down to the fact that most people want their art to either reflect their emotions or help them escape them. Sometimes, these tasks are one and the same, and that type of moment can be transcendent, but it's a rarity. No, the nuts and bolts of it is that we either want to recognize our own current situation -- whatever that might be -- so that we don't feel like the only one, or we want it to give us a little vacation from your problems... to help us forget that we've got troubles, and allow us to forget them, leave them behind... be it for a minute or ninety. You can either laugh at the ridiculousness of a comedy, or be brought to tears by a drama, but ultimately it's escapism vs. solidarity.

The new album by Malory can give you both.

Malory is a German ambient band, not a lone woman. Their first album, Not Here, Not Now (2000) is absolutely enthralling, if not exactly innovative. Weaving ambient tapestries of not-quite-sure-what-it-is-making-that sounds and haunted production, it might be one of my very favorite albums of the past ten years, if only for the depth it brings. It's not melancholic, it's not euphoric, it's not contemplative, and it's not propulsive... but it's almost all of those things at once. Shades of Brian Eno are obvious, but without sounding derivative, the band manages to synthesize the best aspects of ambient pop from the last 25 years, from Slowdive to fellow Europeans The Ecstasy Of St. Theresa. Malory, however, is solidly in the Ramones camp; not in sound, but in the fact that while they don't have much stylistic diversity, they excel at their language of choice.

The new album, Pearl Diver, could be called more of the same... which is something I'm sure that would not be taken as a compliment by the band, but is met as one of the highest regard. Over the course of four albums, only the subtlest of changes has been rolled out... this album certainly has more hooks and vocals than the early work, but it's hardly a detriment - although, to be fair, I'm still not sure if it's an improvement. Some of the band's earliest Slowdive influence has receded, but the guitars are no less gauzy and the vocals no more emphatic. Once again, the melodies unfurl like slow motion parachutes, the percussion is often a wispy pulse from a half-remembered dream... in short, it's a beautiful aural vacation.

However, this isn't an example of cut-and-dry "reflection vs. escapsim". At least, not for this writer. While the tones and timbres are blurred... unclear... the melodies and music of it all is so utterly human, so primally basic, that you'll think most of the melodies on here are lullabies that you can't quite remember. No matter the mood, I keep coming back to this album again and again and keep finding that it's there to both reflect my feelings as well as escape them. If I'm feeling down, the gentle hum is there as consolation, and I keep finding myself lost inside its depth. If I'm feeling good, it's like doing the backstroke through clouds on a warm night.

I'd initially intended to go into detail about particular songs, but that would be doing the album a disservice. While you absolutely could listen to an individual song, it's best taken as a whole, even if you don't take the whole at once. Each bite is better knowing it's part of a larger tapestry. I was recently reading an interview with one of the members of German electronic pioneers Cluster, who said that while many other musicians were concerned with where the song was going, they preferred to swim in drones and static music to really create an environment, rather than continually move forward. By establishing a "space" using whatever sonic devices one chooses to use, it makes it all the more powerful and dreamlike when that whole world shifts just a little.

Now that's an album.

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