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4 January 2016

Visionist:
Safe (Pan)

The
full-length debut from South London-based producer Louis Carnell is
one that I’ve found strangely compelling and yet difficult to
articulate why. Compared to his string of 12” records that preceded
Safe, the album is a headlong dive into open space. It’s somewhat an
album of contradictions, with arrangements that are so sparse that
they simultaneously feel spacious and claustrophobic. The album feels
like a ghostly afterimage of grime, footwork, and bass music. It
skims these genres for flourishes and details without any of the
primary framework that makes those more predictable. I liken Safe to
what Burial’s debut was to dubstep at the time: an abstraction and
impressively unique, new take on familiar conventions. An even more
apt comparison would be other Pan artist Lee Gamble, whose Diversions
1994-1996
release lightly grazed the surface of early jungle records
and presented them in a totally new framework. Only occasionally does
Carnell throw down beats with any of the directness of his prior
releases, and even then it tends to be askew: consider the jerky
distorted lurch of the title cut or the heavy bass throb of “Let Me
In.” In fact, what is probably the most conventional riff on bass
music is less than a minute long, a tease.

However, most of the time,
with all of Safe’s synth voices and staccato chirps, Visionist manages
to tap into some of the same curious library music mining of
Oneohtrix Point Never, sometimes landing somewhere between MIDI music
and a giallo soundtrack. One of the more appealing aspects of Safe is
that its tracks are short, totalling just over half an hour in
playback, but he was smart to keep many of these on the shorter side,
with minimal arrangements that are often repetitive but work well as
he’s edited them here. That level of restraint feels essential to
Safe’s success, usually reluctant to deliver something catchy and
instead aiming for something more disorienting and unusual; I hear it
in little details, like the hushed pink noise stabs in “Tired
Tears, Awake Fears,” sounding like the distorted decay on a kick
without any of the kick itself, effectively replacing a typical
rhythm track with a whisper, and it works. It’s an exciting opus in Visionist’s expanding repertoire, weirdly wonderful and highly recommended.

Buy it: Boomkat | Bleep | iTunes | Amazon

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