Thursday, November 5, 2015

album review: 'ambrosia' by illusive realms

So we're reaching the time of year when I get a little more time in my schedule, where I can dig into records that I might have missed and venture outside my comfort zone. And inevitably, just like last year, that means there's going to be some electronica records that passed me by and that I'm going to delve into to increase my growing knowledge of the format. 

And like with last year, this time we're going to be venturing deep into the indie set to Illusive Realms, an artist that actually approached me back in the early months of this year. We connected on Twitter, I took a listen to some of the stuff that he created, and after liking most of it and passing on my commentary, I made the promise that when he got a full-length record together, I'd sit down and give him a full review. And after some unfortunate delays, that record was finally released on Bandcamp and Soundcloud... right in the middle of the busiest two months of my year. Yeah, September and October have been absolutely bonkers in 2015, and this album unfortunately slipped past my notice. But I did make a promise and the snippets I had heard were promising, and considering that the album was pretty short, I figured I'd make the time and dig in - what did we get?

Well, it was odd, that's for damn sure. Like most electronica albums I've covered, Illusive Realms might start off with something of a formula - low-key, trap flavoured progressions that embrace sombre textures and atmosphere more than straightforward melodies - before making a hard left turn into more organic material that doesn't seem to really take. I'd be inclined to say this record is more of a beat-tape than a full length album - especially when we consider the track length - but for as much as I can see a whole slew of modern hip-hop and R&B MCs liking this, there's enough unique personality in Illusive Realms' production to make Ambrosia a fascinating listen - even if I do feel there's more ideas here than solid execution.

I should explain, and the best place to start would be the production. As you would expect, it's not so much imposing in its darkness than melancholic, which is a natural pairing for the atmosphere that feels spacious in letting the layers of synth and vocal fragments build throughout the mix yet surprisingly intimate, especially considering how much the percussion progressions are placed at the forefront. That's mostly because instead of any massive melodic shifts, most of this record's progressions take place in the beats and percussion, which skitter from trap hi-hats to stuttering cracks to snaps and washed out claps. The opening track 'Azorian' is a prime example - I definitely like the underlying melody and it's one of the tracks on this album that feels like a fully formed song, but despite that melody and female vocal fragments, it's really subtle stutters in the beats and eventually the background itself that gives this album its texture, little tensions that this record is trying to ease out. It's one of the reasons that the more clunky and bass-heavy tracks don't click with me in the same way - yeah, I can see why some MCs might find them attractive, but songs like 'Air Under Water' or the few moments where the bass takes over on 'Theogony' and 'Tropical', it just feels a little clumsy, especially when some of the percussion progressions can feel slightly askew.

But it's on 'Theogony' that the first major shift in the instrumentation takes place - the thicker distorted tone that opens the song does clash harshly with the previous track, but it leads into liquid guitars flowing against the thicker synth and breathy and gorgeous female vocals. It's easily my favourite song on this album not just because the production and atmosphere is superb, but it leverages that balance between organic and synthetic so well. 'Loft Noise' goes for a darker clash with spikier trap elements that doesn't quite work as well, but then we get 'Fakear Interlude' which features walls of strings that are mixed way too loud with the rest of the mix, which consists of acoustic guitar that actually sounds really good. If only that track was balanced properly it could have worked as a cool interlude, but really, the guitar moments give this record a lot of personality, and shows a few tonal choices that can work against modern percussion trends.

The problem becomes that for as good as these ideas are, they are seldom developed into full-length songs. There are only three songs on this twenty-five minute record that run over three minutes and four songs that are less than two minutes in length. And sure, that means it doesn't wear out its welcome and you can easily listen to it a number of times in one sitting, but with the cluster of unique ideas and the occasionally rough transition, we're left with slivers of musical progressions that feel underdeveloped and can occasionally clash. It makes the flow of this record rather jarring, especially when you realize that this record could have easily made itself longer by evolving the melodies as much as the percussion. Furthermore, it does a disservice to the album's tone: so much of this album would benefit from a longer, more languid delivery, intensify that atmosphere, but the vibe often feels disrupted before it began.

Now look, I definitely think Illusive Realms has potential - hell, that vocal snippet on the final track shows that if he wanted to take more of a vocal role, he easily could, it doesn't sound bad. And I do like the addition of more organic guitar and bass, it adds a warmth and grit to these textures that is definitely welcome. But this album needed more meat on its bones, more melodies that could expand and make use of that atmosphere. As such, for me it's a strong 6/10, but I definitely recommend you keep an eye on this guy. It might be a short, occasionally cluttered listen - but it's definitely an intriguing one, and I can definitely appreciate that.

No comments:

Post a Comment