Last year, Andy Stott’s magnificent Luxury Problems blew open the ears of many listeners to new possibilities for vocal performance — or, at least, new possibilities for vocal performance in the context of electronic music. In fact, more than expand the spectrum of mere “possibilities,” Stott’s album appended certain responsibilities to the treatment of the human voice in that particular realm of dark, chasmic sound. More important than reciting mere hooks or spitting looped phrases, the human voice became a tool of texture, of pure expressive force, not to be demoted to a mere messenger of morphemes.
For some listeners (this writer included), this may have been a lesson only recently learned, but surely many of Stott’s peers have known for a while. Rainer Veil — a duo from the North of England and one of Andy Stott’s label mates on Modern Love — certainly understands it. The entirety of their new EP, Struck, is available for your substantial streaming pleasure via Modern Love’s SoundCloud, embedded here. But, more specifically, allow me to direct your attention to “Bala,” the album’s centerpiece, its longest and epitomizing track. In particular, pay attention to the human sigh (at least what I assume to be human) that drops through the mix about 30 seconds in. A more sustained vocal performance shortly follows, but it’s this nearly percussive, lurching breath that makes me fall fully for the song. Rather than serve the tenuous gods of lyric, or even melody, the first sigh of “Bala” has a characteristic most like the ploughing of a ridged brushstroke, displaying a painter’s own impact and presence against his canvas, otherwise smooth.