Doldrums - Lesser Evil - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Doldrums - Lesser Evil

by Daryl Worthington Rating:10 Release Date:2013-02-25

There are two main forces driving Lesser Evil, the debut album from Montreal's Doldrums. On the one hand is a drive for danceable electronic pop music. On the other is a sense of wild experimentation, which gives the whole album a chaotic feel, and creates a playful psychedelia of the sort pioneered by Syd Barrett and bought up to date by the likes of Animal Collective.

'Anomaly', the album's second track, is a good demonstration of the synth-pop sounds which float through the whole album. The track is built on bleepy samples, bouncy synth-bass and machine gun-like snare drum-rolls. (they quite literally sound like machine guns, or to put it another way, they are almost identical to the snare rolls on 'Machine Gun' by Portishead). The arrangement, combined with the almost androgynous vocals, is reminiscent of the cool efficiency of Pet Shop Boys, but updated into something which reflects the greater possibilities offered by ever-improving music making technology.

At the other end of the scale are the album's more abstract, surrealist elements. These are best shown on 'Intro' (unsurprisingly, the album's opener) and 'Singularly Acid Face'. These two tracks feel like little deranged interludes in the album. Both are around the one-minute-mark, maintaining the album's playful feel.

The tracks are built on extreme vocal manipulations, with the human voice stretched, warped and glitched into something which, although clearly still a human voice, feels unfamiliar. They are similar to the kind of experiments on Holly Herndon's debut album, although more concise and immediate. Both tunes are accompanied by cinematic arrangements which further add to the surreal feel, almost like the vocal oddities have somehow hijacked the rest of the piece.

Lesser Evil is at its best when the two elements are fused together into one piece. 'Egypt', a highlight of the album, and for many people their first encounter with Doldrums when it was released on an EP last year, is defined by this contrast. A groove best described as midway between tribal and techno drives the song through increasingly bizarre and unpredictable instrumentation, from free-form, drum-circle percussion breakdowns to alien-sounding, whacky vocal manipulation. However, for all these chops and changes through texture and style, the song is grounded by its ability to return to strong vocal hooks and a danceable beat, restraining from wandering off on a self-indulgent tangent.

'She is the Wave' begins with a blast of noisy, frantic synths. The song falls into a dubby beat as the vocals enter, but still the deranged synth-parts remain. The two seemingly contradictory elements somehow work together, chaos alongside pop song, combining into a unified whole. Even relatively downtempo tracks such as 'Lost in Everyone' progress through myriad dynamic and stylistic shifts, and rarely do these unpredictable structures sound contrived.

The problem with the album is that these eccentricities are not particularly unique. The mix of dance and pop music with unusual and often unpredictable textures and arrangements is one that will be familiar to fans of bands such as Animal Collective, Bjork, even, to an extent, Thom Yorke's Eraser album. There is nothing wrong with this per se. There is sometimes just as much enjoyment to be had from an artist tastefully and artfully amalgamating existing sounds as there is from those endeavouring to forge their own identity.

Doldrums also deserve credit for creating an album which sounds undeniably modern and of the moment, rather than relying on retro recycling. Fans of the three acts above will probably find a lot to enjoy in this album. It might not bring anything new to the table, but what it does it does well, and with a pleasingly oddball charm.

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