Thursday, 26 January 2012
Review: Desolate - The Invisible Insurrection
The first time I heard Desolate's album The Invisible Insurrection, I told myself I needed to give it a second listen before writing up my thoughts. That first play was through my speakers at a fairly low volume while I was doing some laundry, which is not an ideal context for listening to, well, anything, so I gave it a second shot walking home at 4am in the rain. This, after all, is an album that came with the recommendation of being a spiritual successor to Burial.
And guess what? It sounds pretty damn moody in that context, as you'd expect anything with Burial comparisons to do. That said, the Burial reference is, I think, a little lazy overall. Yeah it's moody and mournful, yeah there are occasional plaintive female vocal fragments, and the drum effects on a couple of tracks sound a bit like Burial's crackly 2-step samples. Stylistically though, it's pretty different. The core of this album is a series of delicate piano motifs, around which the crackliness and the female shards are arranged. The drum work is extremely minor and distinctly secondary, whereas Burial often talks gleefully of his love of classic garage "rollage", and his music is as much about the skittery, paranoid rhythms as it is about the stuff going on above it. This is Burial-esque in the sense it evokes the same mood as Burial, rather than in any particular techniques.
And really, this isn't nearly as good as Burial. Well, obviously. I doubt Desolate himself ever made the comparison, but plenty of other critics can and they've coloured my expectations, the bastards. This is definitely a mood piece, a 45 minute atmospheric backing for those moments late at night when you're walking home in the rain. But nothing on here really scrapes the soul in the way so many Burial tracks do. Think about the way Burial sampled a sound effect of a shell case ricocheting off a tiled floor from Metal Gear Solid - an incredibly distinctive and arresting sample that evokes an entire sonic headspace of coldness, isolation, discard, all in one little sound looping back and forth in a larger track. Production tricks here don't get any more adventurous than sampling gloomy film dialogue during moody intro segments - things we've heard countless times before. They're functional but not inspirational. People have already thought of them. If I were writing an atmospheric downtempo night-time record, I'd pencil that kind of thing in without thinking, whereas I'd never think to sample the falling shell case. This is an effective album, but it's nothing that a whole bunch of people couldn't have done by writing out a few morose piano sketches and throwing in a whole bunch of atmospherics and samples. It's background music, in other words, music that only really comes alive when set to imagery or put in a certain context. Very good background music, I should stress, but the world isn't short of that.
Genre: Late Night Ambient
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10