Walls Coracle

[Kompakt; 2011]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: shoegaze, microhouse, chillwave, folktronica
Others: Caribou, M83, Thomas Fehlmann, Harmonia

If you’re like me and have been paying rapt attention to the gradual evolution of Animal Collective’s music over the past decade, you might have a hard time pointing to exactly what changed between Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion to account for the enormous surge in popularity and influence the band has achieved. (Hipster Runoff maven Carles calls Animal Collective the “definitive band of the Era of Internet Indie Music Discovery.”) Maybe it’s that the facepainted, primitivist group ritual vibe of their live sets serves as an indie rock counterpart to middle America’s recent embrace of rave in the so-called electro of DeadMau5 and Skrillex. Or maybe the wide-eyed sampledelica of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch made timely chillwaves that dropped the deconstructed pop of MPP into a new generic context for listeners. Whatever the reason, the band’s recent turn toward abstract synthpop songwriting seems to have left its mark all over internet-based rock music. Last year, it made the leap to that established purveyor of minimal house and glitch bubblegum, Kompakt, in the form of Walls, a duo of Sam Willis, London DJ who is one half of Allez-Allez, and Alessio Natalizia of Banjo or Freakout. Their newest, Corcacle, is an album that whooshes by without leaving much of an impression, but whose deftly layered textures blush pleasingly and provide a passable guide to contemporary memes (as Carles would put it) in indie rock.

Like their enjoyable self-titled debut, Coracle follows a pattern of Kraut-indebted ambient landscapes that build to genteel techno climaxes. The rock touches on their first album amounted to brush strokes of stately, ghosted orchestral pop that meshed perfectly with Kompakt’s pop ambient brand. On this album, however, a more underachieving, bedroom aesthetic rears its head, often distracting from the foundations of the songs. On “Into Our Midst,” a functional house groove is overlain with breathy, whispered “do do do’s” and looped pseudo-Frippertronics. As textural additions, these elements add no interest or complexity to the songs, and they are upstaged by a simple syncopated tambourine. Similarly, the pleasantly shimmering beat of “Raw Umber/Twilight” is not really helped by the distracting “ahh’s.” They do nothing to bump these grooves as actual songs, but neither do they contribute to their functionality as ambient house tracks.

“Heat Haze,” the most Animal Collective-indebted song here, is pretty engrossing though. A rudimentary 70s drum machine is eclipsed by warm, analogue sequences and layers of treated guitar, and the whispered vocals are layered into keening counterpoint, à la Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Then the song breaks into a warm house beat and everything’s gone Another Green World. “Sunporch” pitches up the indie-dude vocals and creates the album’s most radiant and unfussy track, one that Holy Other has made even more distinctive with a woozy, chopped and screwed remix.

Even on the songs that haven’t been given the witch house treatment, Coracle’s Kompakt-style microhouse is overlaid with tropes from the past few years of indie blog music: Battles-style insectoid stomp, noise-gone-kosmische, chillwave, and of course, festival-model Animal Collective synthpop. Ultimately, this album is a useful index to effects and samples you might want to import into Ableton Live at this moment, but not much more than that. In a blog post following the leak of MPP, Carles mused that “blog house” might be the most accurate label for post-MPP Animal Collective, or, more specifically, “P4K House.” If P4K House were to (god forbid) take off as an actual genre, Walls’ second album would be an exemplary, if forgettable, case in point.

Links: Walls - Kompakt

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