Over the past couple of years, Erol Alkan has built up a diverse but cohesive roster for his Phantasy label. Most of his artists have one foot on the dancefloor and one foot elsewhere—the indie scene, the modular synth builders’ club, the clouds—which is a pretty good approximation of the style of DJing that Alkan has practiced since the days of Trash, his fondly remembered club night from back in the days of electroclash.
At one end of the spectrum there’s Tom Rowlands, of the Chemical Brothers, who offered up a pair of noise-besotted throwback acid-house tracks for the label; at the other end, Brazil’s Babe, Terror, whose fuzzy layers of looped vocals sound like doo-wop from a world spun off its axis. Daniel Avery‘s sawtoothed throb swings the pendulum towards techno again, and Connan Mockasin‘s idiosyncratic psychedelic pop draws it back into the singer-songwriter’s realm. Ghost Culture, Phantasy’s latest addition, falls squarely in the middle of that array. The alias belongs to the 24-year-old London studio engineer James Greenwood, and his debut album carefully fuses canny song-craft with clattering machine constructions; it offers an unusual balance between muscular grooves and whispered intimacy, as though erecting a bedsheet fort smack dab in the middle of a throbbing basement party.
The most immediate point of comparison might be Swim-era Caribou and the clubbier music of his alter ego Daphni. Greenwood is similarly fond of loping drum grooves and burbling synthesizers, and his breathy voice is faintly reminiscent of Dan Snaith’s, except that Snaith tends to soar, while Greenwood’s delivery is more downcast—literally, as though he were singing into his jacket lapels. (Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that he apparently recorded his vocals with a microphone salvaged from a tank.) But that muted tone is just what the mood of his songs calls for. In any case, he’s got a way with sing-songy melodies that stick in your head; the bulk of these songs would probably work unplugged, though that’s no reason to wish they were any different than they are, if only because their sound—Factory Floor does bubblegum pop, basically—is so unusual and delightful.
The opening “Mouth” is full of simple pleasures—the satisfying oomph of a well-rounded bass synth; the delicious crispness of a well-tempered machine clap—and supple nuance. The nervous spring reverb that accompanies his keyboard trills is a small detail, but it amps up the music’s quiet, visceral thrill; it adds depth to the song’s ample negative spaces. The principal synth riff rolls like a fistful of agates, and everything sounds as polished as a bauble in a raccoon’s paws.
The bulk of the album offers variations on the same set of elements: the lonely warble of the Korg Mono/Poly synthesizer, snaky drum grooves, and his mopey, husky voice. In “Arms”, detuned synth pads drizzle down like cold rain over snapping electro syncopations as he mutters cryptically about “Moving arms, flashing teeth/ Half-closed, half-open.” “How” is all percolating arpeggios and lullaby repetitions; it sounds a little like the xx if they made their music on broken-down Russian synthesizers and steam-powered gizmos. Many of his melodies carry a whiff of déjà vu: on “Lying”, it’s the Christmas carol “Silent Night”, while on “Glass”, it’s New Order‘s “Your Silent Face”. There’s a lot of New Order here, in fact, from his voice’s faint resemblance, in places, to Bernhard Sumner’s, to the chilly string pads reminiscent of the group’s early albums.
And there are a few wildcards, too: “Glaciers”, with its waltz tempo and wheezing organs, sounds like Phil Spector via Stereolab (on Quaaludes), and the clammy echoes of “Answer” lend a hint of an Elvis-at-Sun-Studios vibe. But the album’s largely uniform palette is both a strength and a weakness. By seven or eight tracks in, the sameness of the production begins to feel faintly claustrophobic. One possible way out of that cul-de-sac might have been a few more straight-up club cuts. We know that he’s got them in him, because he already delivered one in the form of the Border Community homage “Red Smoke”, the B-side to his debut single. And he hasn’t exactly turned a blind eye to the dancefloor here, either. While his voice is foregrounded throughout, most of the album’s tracks tend to break down, halfway through, into skeletal, dubbed-out fantasias. It’s clear that he’s arranged them with an ear for future extended mixes in which the pop songs fall away, leaving only the shuddering metallic chassis underneath. Maybe, in retrospect, it’s his judicious sense of balance that holds him back: a few more extremes, and his next work might really sing.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1BgcwPh