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Brian McBride: The Effective Disconnect (Kranky)

Putting into words my feelings about Brian McBride’s music is a difficult thing to do, much more difficult than I would have anticipated. McBride is one half of ambient powerhouse project Stars of the Lid, and that act’s evolution from hazy post-shoegaze drones into lush, arranged cyclical soundtracks is no doubt integrally part of McBride musically by now. This album works quite well on its own, but it was commissioned as a soundtrack for the film “The Vanishing of the Bees,” a documentary about the dying off of the world’s bee population. And so this album does double duty between pushing the narrative of the film forward as well as its own standalone arc. The tracks that compromise The Effective Disconnect sound somewhat familiar, because they share the timbre and patience of most recent Stars of the Lid. Strings ebb and flow with a levitating grace, while McBride’s piano playing is so light on the touch that when it does appear, it’s practically a whisper. One distinction between Stars of the Lid and McBride’s compositions here is that the last two SOTL albums have been double albums with plenty of room to roam. Here McBride is telling a story to complement the film, so there are certain cues and dynamics that are required. This makes the music a bit more immediate at times, with an emphasized drama when compared to the usual subtlety of SOTL. “Several Tries (In an Unelevated Style)” looms with a melancholy that seems more urgent, while the swelling brass of “Supposed Essay On the Piano” resonates with a bit more brightness and intensity. But for each of those more pronounced moments, there are complementary abstract ones; “I Know That You Don’t Like the Future Like I Do” is stark and minimal, relying as much on the channel delay applied to its quiet piano phrases as the instrument itself. Because of the gliding quality of McBride’s work, despite the arc of this album, it’s still difficult to fully articulate just how well it works or why. It is, however, one of my favorite albums of the year, that much is certain. Really beautiful and moving, never overstated or cloying… McBride strikes the balance just right, yet again.

Listen/watch: Mélodrames Télégraphiés (in B Major 7th) Part 1

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