Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Atlantic at Pacific - Weddings [Alchemist]/I and I - The Hardest Part [Alchemist]

A pair of tapes from the relatively young Alchemist label here.
First up is Atlantic at Pacific, the nom de plume of Santa Cruz dude Austin Wood. Wood gets the endorphins flowing right off at the bat with hazy bedroom electro-pop jam (and album standout) "Hallucinations." It's a very simple piece but sturdily constructed with unassuming but still HUGE synth hooks littering the track all over the place. I've never actually timed how long the track is but, damn, I always know that it's way too short. "On We Go" starts out a touch chillier but thaws out over its duration. Initially entering with an almost trip hop drum track, it's almost into DJ Shadow territory when the track reaches full bloom. "Drifting" whirls around on a woozy arpeggio with a drum machine pumping along faithfully before jumping ship for the keyboard solo. Upon its return the piece becomes more focused leaving the fog behind. The brief "50" certainly brings back the hip hop influence, collaging a handful of beats in more misty reverb. The title track stomps steadily underneath a luminous 3 chord synth progression which is given a moment to shine on it's own before Wood expands the piece to full force, including an infectious tinkling counter-melody. It's another piece that could have lasted longer not that it's especially short. And really I should probably be praising Wood's brevity as its a quality too few artists have. "The Sun Melt the Sky" is a rather swirly piece lead by stark a piano melody. That is before it morphs into a late-night downbeat raver. The side wraps with "The Lonely Ocean," an aquatic head-nodder I can envision MF Doom dropping a verse over.
Side number two kicks off with "For the Record," a thoroughly breezy just-go-with-it jam. "Tired" features burly keyboard chords and just a hint of early 90s videogame soundtracks. It's hard to pin down the mood of the track, a touch too intense and rhythmically involved to be somber but not light or uptempo enough to be a peppy pop number. The grey area works for it. "Intentional Pt. 1" is an unusual one for the cassette. There's a zonked monotone vocal drone, a synth snare at an almost punk tempo and bright keyboard melodies. "Summer Nights" is ponderous with a plodding synth progression and chiming counter-melody while the sunnier "I Know You Know" follows it up with a rattling drum track and fuzzy chords. The closer "Who Are We" spreads massively echoing vocals across the track with a sparse keyboard melody plinking away in the ether.
Wood doesn't create the most unique textures out there but his songwriting is pretty fucking solid making for an incredibly pleasant listen for a variety of moods. For fans of takin'-it-easy music.
Alchemist label head Adam Sarmiento is I and I (or i and i as he seems to prefer to have it written) which causes me to ask is that a Bad Brains reference? If it is, you probably wouldn't be able to tell from the music contained on this tape. The Hardest Part is more or less a cassingle but of the "12 inch single" variety, i.e. it lasts more than 7 minutes and it features the single version of the title track as well as two remixes and then an additional track ("Pocahontas.") "The Hardest Part (single version)" has a bit of a similar vibe to that Atlantic at Pacific tape but minus the haze. The vocal presence is much stronger as well (it actually has discernible lyrics) in fact the vocals are the focus. The rest of the elements are kept pretty minimal for the most part, crisp drum programming, fuzzy electro bass and stark piano notes. I think how a listener responds to Sarmiento's voice will probably dictate how he/she feels about the track. I am a bit on the fence regarding that matter myself. Sarmiento doesn't have a bad voice but it feels a little ill-fitting for the production. Or maybe more accurately its the production that doesn't suit his voice the best. "The Hardest Part (Radio! remix)" which I think was done by Austin Wood takes the opposite route of the original. Pushing fragments of the track through loads of effects and minimizing the vocal presence by comparison. It's pretty darned sloshed and, while still using the original as it's source, it refashions the original into a far more "electronic" track.
The second side brings the Nassau Caledonian remix of the title track. It retains the mellow vibe of the original and keeps many of the elements intact but really ups the "club" quotient with big splashy drum tracks and sequenced synth at points. There's some nice synthesized strings at the end too moving the piece briefly into a different realm. The ironic thing about this tape is that the "b-side" is actually far more interesting and my favorite track. "Pocahontas" feels a bit grittier, with wobbly drum programming and an ambling synth melody. There's a cool fuzz organ solo in there too. Again, Sarmiento's voice seems slightly out of place but as more elements enter throughout the song it seems to fit more and more. There's a brilliant little counter-melody with stabs of keyboard notes that is worth it's weight in gold. The song takes an unusual path moving from a slightly abstract, ramshackle drum and synth duet into a fully (de)formed pop ballad forgoing most of the rules along the way. It's vaguely similar to something like Dragging an Ox Through Water, where there's a real solid pop song core but the way it is ultimately outfitted is more than a little unexpected. This little nugget makes me curious about just what Sarmiento can do. I think he may be onto something with this "Pocahontas" thing.
Both releases are available in cassette, compact disc and downloadable formats from the label. Your call but you know the right decision is tape. You can also stream both releases from the Alchemist website too which is pretty sweet.


Anonymous said...

Great review.

Col-Shan said...

Your review does a great job of capturing the sound. It was nice music to listen to while getting ready for bed and falling asleep. What do you think the titles have to do with the music?