- by Joseph Majsterski Rating:5 Release Date:2016-07-15 Label: Kranky
Precious Systems, by MJ Guider, is an album that aims high, but falls short. The goal is clearly something numinous, trembling on the edge of existence, and occasionally, the songs achieve that brilliantly, but more often than not, the songs, rather than being transcendent, come off as listless and dull.
The set opens with an example of the former, 'Lit Negative', which is probably the strongest track on the album. Leading with hazy and buzzy synths, the song is quickly lifted up into the clouds by lead Melissa Guion's angelic vocals. A deep, plodding beat joins in just before everything drops except a glowing pad briefly gives the song a solemn, almost spiritual angle. The effect is quite powerful, almost spine-tingling.
Unforunately, few of the other songs are able to approach this lofty height. In fact the very next song, 'Triple Black', mimics some aspects, including the muted pads, but somehow comes off feeling too repetitive, lacking a real verse/chorus structure. The next song, 'Surfacing First', is even more dislocated, just a floaty piece of insubstantiality that doesn't feature anything griping. It's like an ambient track that just happened to feature a few bits of random singing that almost, but not quite, sync up with the music.
The album shows real signs of promise, but seems to squander them. 'Former Future Beings' is a perfect example of that. It leads with a wonderful piano piece, but that slowly gets blunted aside by more of the hazy ambience the group seems to favor, until it's smeared into a film of nothingness by the end.
The album is a real struggle for me. I want to love it at times, but often it's more annoying because it just seems to sand away any edges until it's all just a giant cotton ball of fuzz. And the strange thing is, sometimes I love that kind of sound. Perhaps it's the vocals that make it seem more aspirational than simple ambience and make the album feel partially broken. But oftentimes, the ambience itself is subpar. 'Their Voices Clear', ironically, features vocals that are anything but, and it has almost nothing going on: a simple bass and snap beat, a string stretched a mile long, and muted, silken vocals drifting around. It's a fine example of the album's primary sin: it feels interminable. And that's quite impressive for a four-minute song. But that pales in comparison to the follow-up, 'Evencycle', which clocks in at a massive ten-plus minutes and illustrates what interminable really means, with its endless cycling (yep) between two basic chords.
If you're really hungry for drifting, edgeless ambient music with ghostly female vocals, this could be worth checking out. But you can definitely do better.