Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reviews: Alasdair Roberts / Bachelorette

Alasdair RobertsSpoils (Drag City)
Garbed in styles of hallowed Scottish minstrels and rural folk, humble English buskers, classic American folk and new millennial spins on the back-porch poetics of Appalachian country-twang, Alasdair Roberts soon reaches the 15-year-mark of writing and recording; his savoir faire worn like orange-y scuffs on leather boots. His latest, Spoils expectedly finds the middle ground between his two most recent releases: stripped down, warm-beer-swilling Scottish regional folk (his trilling melodious voice warmly spilling honey through the headphones) mixed with intricate accompaniment. Prickly baroque guitars, harpsichords, and glockenspiels flutter like the frilly gold ends of curtained tent entrances. Drums rumble like nonthreatening thunder behind far off cumulonimbus clouds while Roberts, not only leading the way with the soothing glide of his humming vocal vacillation, also provides light synthesized simmering, the cheer of a fiddle and the more unique gestured swoon of a dulcimer and psaltery.

The strutting groove of drums mixes in with a hearty hooked-arm-swing and pub-set folk, that slides into a burning guitar arching over a gushing organ (“Hazel Forks”) – which exemplifies Roberts brilliant straddling of his two most oft-identified sound-bases: traditional English/Scottish folk revivalism and Will Oldham-esque American-twanged literate, melancholic country balladry. The baroque guitar promenades ornately before giving way to Roberts disarming coo “As I walked the woods and the mountains high…” on “So Bored Was I (Dark Triad)” restating an unacknowledged thesis that though a full band bulges readily beneath this earthy, hill-set solemn sanctimony, it is never more than an admittedly striking frame for the heart of any song, Roberts intimate vocals, as calming and heartwarming as sitting beside a sonorous piano in a sparse wooden floored room in some flat on the outskirts of Glasgow.

Bachelorette – My Electric Family (Drag City)

New Zealand based multi-instrumentalist Annabel Alpers sounds so natural surrounded by machines. Her vocals, as wispy as they are chalky, looped and double-tracked, seem to gush in dreamy dizzy reverie as it soars over blippy synths and disco-rumbled beats as it narrates a somewhat insular world very much at terms with the coldness of technology (“Her Rotating Head”). Alpers’ Drag City debut is her 2nd full length under the Bachelorette moniker, though she’s banded around New Zealand in the realms of psychedelia and surf (which shows on some of the clangy guitars and head-swimming fuzz effects persistent throughout My Electric Family). The buzzing hummed heart beat swizzles over a steady beat in “Technology Boy,” the stressful utilitarian resentment between human and artificial life, as her vocals bounce, sweet and serene yet with a mechanical stab, up-and-down at each syllable, “technology boys encapsulated by apollonian equipment creating uncontainable fissures as the Dionysian inside him intensifies…”
The middle section of said-song, arguably the centerpiece, spreads out into a quiet moonlit waltz of looped voices, made robotic through vocoders over innocuous electric clicks and clatters from what seems like stirring “family” members. Synths can pound away in slightly sunny pop struts (“Dream Sequence”) and earthy acoustic guitars and warble out rolling country-twangs (“Instructions for Insomniacs”); but at its heart the album feels like a conceptual space-opera, rolling back the screen of the computer or the shield of the skull to drown in the ven-diagram cramming of the electronic, the synthetic, and the human, the organic. Cold, seemingly lifeless structures (or, any sort of technology) are envisioned as somewhat-living organisms with natural functions like digestion and comparable powers like influence, all gleamed over haunting looped feedback roars that seem to be re-layered over a steady beat (“The National Grid”).
All in all, you’ll find waves of classic-dream pop recalling more recent flares like School of Seven Bells, but free of any said-revivalists potential for the ostentatious; and, be it danceable at some points, you’ll not find any true floor-burners, more like nocturnal groove ballads apt for night-driving; and, also, be it psychedelic at some points, it’s not necessarily the rooftop perched strung out stoner trip, but it certainly does spin your mind around and make you feel a bit Daft Punk-y at points, questioning where you end and where your walkman, your lab top or your car stereo…begins.
(words: milo)

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