The Analog Girl – Sometime Next Galaxy

The Analog Girl - Sometime Next Galaxy (2007)

The Analog Girl – Sometime Next Galaxy (2007)

I remember back then when I first heard of The Analog Girl, I thought it was pure and absolutely genius. I knew right there that I needed to experience the whole thing, so I went on with my business as usual until I finally managed to put my hands on a copy of Sometime Next Galaxy.

Self labeled as laptop-rock (whatever that might be), this Singaporean lady has one of the most driven and unique attitude towards her art. It’s like when you know that certain artist has a peculiar way of doing things, but for some reason you know that deep within them they are not even believing 100% in what they are doing. That’s not the case with The Analog Girl, it’s that belief and self-confidence in what she is doing that keeps the things moving, but is actually a little more than that, things not only move, things gravitate smoothly and fit perfectly in place when needed as well.

I want to be completely honest, and I won’t suggest that Sometime Next Galaxy is some sort of masterpiece and the world needs to stop in order for you to listen to it, but I honestly believe that this album has its fair amount of surprising elements that makes it more than worth listening, even if you’re not fan of whatever the genre this is.

I’m seriously having a hard time trying to describe exactly what genre this should be labeled as you can see, and for those unfamiliar with this album might probably think that this has to be the most bizarre album this side of the milky way, but actually it isn’t. Think of this as some sort of semi-professional, homegrown sound taken to the next level. It’s completely electronic in nature, achieving what I would describe as a rough, darker and underground approach to urban electronic music. There are some rough edges that’s for sure, but instead of looking it as a flaw, it kind of legitimizes those elements as part of the music itself.

The vocal work might not be that consistent through the length of the whole album, I have to admit that it is not one of my favorite aspects of the album, but towards the end of the end you start to get used to it and suits the general tone the album is going for. It is all part of the experience, the feeling the voice imprints on everything might not be brightest, but it sure does a good job matching the difficult to decipher sound. Now we have two things to decipher.

Whoever said that the best music and the most enjoyable experiences come only from the biggest budgets and well-known names is definitely missing on the beauty and unexpected surprises that diversity has for us. Sometime Next Galaxy was unexpected back then, but still keeps surprising me today.

 

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Boards of Canada – Trans Canada Highway

Boards of Canada - Trans Canada Highway (2006)

Boards of Canada – Trans Canada Highway (2006)

I believe that my liking and attachment to Boards of Canada is a very well established fact around here, so bear with me. Trans Canada Highway has puzzled me for at least 5 years and I’m starting to suspect that I’m on my way to finally making some sense about it. Of course, that is a very subjective assertion but for me making that conclusion is reaching the point where after countless hours of listening and several altered mental states it has come to this.

The first thing that might turn a couple of warning lights on is the fact that this EP starts with one of the most easily recognizable songs from the previous full length album. Keep in mind that this was during a time when I was barely starting to know Boards of Canada, and as a newcomer to this massive, elusive, bizarre and abstract catalog was making little sense to me, let alone understand Trans Canada Highway in the right context.

I’m sure that those who have already listened and are familiar with The Campfire Headphase will have a much better time with this. This isn’t a requirement of course, and this EP can be fully enjoyed by itself, but since Dayvan Cowboy was first born as one of the highlights of The Campfire Headphase, you might want to check it out if you haven’t.

Truth is however, that Trans Canada Highway feels almost like what would happen if you ask the Sandison brothers to pick a particular song and fully expand and explore it. Dayvan Cowboy was absolutely brilliant when it first appeared in 2005 and for some reason they believed that it deserved a special treatment with its very own EP, and the end result is this enigmatic and somewhat short collection of songs (it’s an EP after all).

Trans Canada Highway is not the same as The Campfire Headphase though, you never get the sensation that one is trying to emulate the other, and although they share the same initials (TCH) and also one of the brightest moments with the inclusion of Dayvan Cowboy, those similarities seem to hint about something is going on between those two. While The Campfire Headphase is described as an introspective experience, resembling the stretching of several hours into a few minutes in a way that only an acid trip does while falling asleep during a campfire, Trans Canada Highway and its more intense use of synthesizers provides a less organic-like experience, and focus on a very distinct direction.

The track titles are scattered like flashback memories from a road trip, but oddly interesting is the fact that once you get past the names, it starts to make sense, somehow your mind starts to fill in the blanks between the titles and what you are listening. Left Side Drive, Heard from Telegraph Lines or Under the Coke Sign become not just allusions to some random trip through a distant highway, they become your very own experience, one that you can reclaim as yours.

All of the above has left me thinking through the years about the amount of material that could erupt from other memorable Boards of Canada well-known tracks. But perhaps the most valuable conclusion we can make out of this is that it might appear that the duo has finally departed from the trademark sound and the structure (or lack thereof) that we’ve been listening through decades, and are moving forward to an exciting and increasingly complex new era.

Starting with The Campfire Headphase we are witnessing the beginning of a new Boards of Canada, one that seem to have evolved from the impetuous, reckless and somewhat basic in nature attitude we knew for years. Now it feels mature, self-contained and much, much richer not only sound-wise. Trans Canada Highway appears to be that confirmation, the glimpse of a door to a whole new level.

2006 seems very distant now, and while it was the last release to date by the Scottish duo, I don’t believe this will be the last time we will hear from them. In the mean time, there’s plenty of material to explore… you might just discover your new favorite place within some Boards of Canada album.

 

Mandalay – Instinct

Mandalay - Instinct (2000)

Mandalay – Instinct (2000)

Another one of those bands that ceased to exist long ago, and still a decade later I can find interesting stuff when going through their albums. Instinctis particularly interesting because of its downtempo nature, the subtle electronic influence and the always fragile and yet powerful vocals by Nicola Hitchcock. The combination of those elements and her voice should be totally trademarked, I mean, it’s a formula I’ve never seen anywhere else and maybe there wasn’t much of an audience for that and hence the reason Mandalay disbanded (although I doubt that was the true reason behind the break up).

This might not be the album you want to hear if you’re on a bright mood, this is the kind of album you put on when you’re looking for an intimate atmosphere or you want to create a mysterious ambient. Yes, this album works wonderful as bedroom music, if you know what I mean… But that’s not the reason why this album has so much going for it, that is just a nice side effect.

I always thought that Mandalay’s music shares a huge resemblance with music from other artists such as Delirium, and I’m sure I’m not alone on that, it is kind of futile to do those comparisons now that the band is extinct. But the truth is that this album should be noted for its consistency all the way through, as it never loses that aura of mystery and still at the same time remains a sensuous, intimate and inciting proposal.

I believe that one of the more intriguing highlights is that you never actually quite end getting all of it. There are always some parts that remain elusive and while you might think that you got used to it, you listen to it some time later and it’s like new question arises, new feelings and emotions start to emerge and you’re back to the starting point again. This isn’t because the experience tends to be random and you got it wrong the last time, it is just the way Instinct tends to be, and that’s what makes it an interesting experience by itself.

The experience, however, wouldn’t be complete without the element that I believe is what glues everything together: the vocals. Hitchcock’s performance might suggest fragility at first glance, but the truth is that there’s not a single moment of hesitation in everything she does, and as a result Instinct feels solid, confident and even surprising once you get the whole picture. Some might argue that the use of double tracking for the vocal performance might diminish the value of the performance, as is evident during some of the songs, but I personally believe that in this case is justified when you consider how extraordinary Nicola Hitchcock sounds while doing back vocals for Nicola Hitchcock… Is evident that the intention was never to create a false sensation of a stronger voice, the intention was to provide the main voice with an effective counterpart that enhances Hitchcock performance even further.

If you don’t like the calm and introspective nature of downtempo, chances are that you will end up skipping this album almost straight away. But if you do like it, this is one of those trip hop albums that age particularly well and that will never sound out of place no matter if it is 10, 15 or 20 years old.

I’m suspicious that you will give Instinct a try, lured by the atmosphere created by the many elements that are present here, but in the end you will stay for the elements that you can’t see but are also there.