Mellow Waves (Spunk)
EVERYTHING IS RECORDED
Close But Not Quite (XL)
Two men who have been away a while – 10 years for Cornelius’ Keigo Oyamada; even longer for Everything Is Recorded’s Richard Russell – return with electronic music that doesn’t feel tied to past or present.
The Englishman has an EP which is fronted by various voices and multiple styles but somehow remains centred as a kind of intense gaze. The Japanese producer is inimically Cornelius: light and sometimes flippant, but actually deceptively easy, his choices sometimes decidedly odd up close when your ears get past the glistening attractiveness of his sonic palette.
Oyamada’s voice is the chief distractor/disguiser on Mellow Waves thanks to his ability to sound relaxed, innocent, curious, breathy and slightly – ever so slightly, but nonetheless definitely there – creepy.
The vocal melodies tend to the pale and almost wan, wafting past on some gossamer wings. In Joe Hockey terms they would be leaners, not lifters and they ask little of his limited skill, but do stretch his range.
None of this makes them any less vital a component though: that innocent abroad feel is the invitation, the “one of us” element, that takes us into analogue and digital tones. You go in happily, more likely to succumb to what little detonations might be in there.
Take for example the cabaret jazz swing of Sometimes/Someplace with its prominent bass asserting itself. It breaks into quasi funk, falls back into reverie, pushes hard into a cutting little electro-metal section, and falls back again but this time at a higher level of energy.
Or there’s Helix/Spiral, which is bouncy in a kids’ TV show way, the voice put through a vocoder over little splashes of shiny keyboards. The deconstruction slowly insinuates itself though via squirly bleeps, unexpected deep keyboard bass sounds and even a kind of electro gong, the rhythm fracturing, while all the while the bounce never actually disappears.
As a reminder that the last Cornelius album was called Sensuous for good reason, there are still plenty of places on Mellow Waves which are almost tangibly attractive to the touch. It is part of his undeniable appeal.
That the album ends on the guitar ambience of Crepuscule, beauty encased in a name suggesting otherwise, is a neat Cornelian move.
What would constitute a typical move for Russell’s Everything Is Recorded alter ego is up for debate given he has been running a highly successful label - XL, which did rather well out of Adele, White Stripes, and a few others - and producing occasionally, including the final albums from Bobby Womack and Gil Scott-Heron, as well one from the very much alive sisters of Ibeyi.
Before all that though, he was for a time in the early ‘90s a rave performer, not that you can detect those roots really here. In fact he is at times playing in Cornelius territory on this five-track EP and at other times descends into a sonic maelstrom.
The title tracks opens the set with the languidly soulful vocals of Sampha, putting a human warmth over burbling, mildly twitchy sounds that make a break for old school soul with strings and brass swelling mid song in a sample from Curtis Mayfield. And the set ends with the short The Rhythm Of Life And Death which eschews singing for some indeterminate treated vocals and a piano-and-glitch combination which projects just enough suggestion of discord to feel ready to disturb just as the track ends.
In between these two tracks there is more definite shades of darkness. The sample of the aged voice of Scott-Heron between the grimmer tones of rapper Giggs in Early This Morning, brings contemporary weariness to overtones of early ‘90s Bristol.
Harsher still is Washed Up On The Shore where Obongjayar is a husky interlocutor working himself into a fervour against blasts of booming drums and scratchy percussion.
But D’elusion, with Mela Murder and Greet Gartside (yes, him from Scritti Politti) on baord, pulls back the heavy darkness to leave a rolling soul track that suggests emotional openings that are still marked by edginess.