The Boats Ballads of The Research Department

[12k; 2012]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: neo-classical pop, rustic electronica(coustic), watery
Others: Flying Saucer Attack, Hood, Movietone, Rachel’s, Tortoise

I just want to write about what I’m hearing.

It sounds like wind clipping a microphone. It sounds like drifting on the water, like Flying Saucer Attack. Buoyant and cool. It feels like hair blown, ridiculously, back, in the stillness of standing in an air current. It settles into the slow pull of a cello, into fingers walking slowly over keys. Unnatural basses and xylophones carry the melody into a slow, jazzy beat, like something from Tortoise. Strings, buried, return. No crescendo, but substantially developed. Tape-warped piano carries it all out like a pulse.

It sounds like at-the-end-of-the-day failure. It sounds like a voice caught in delay, or stripped. A sample repeats and repeats and repeats. I don’t know what is being sung; I can never quite tell with the submerged voice. Reminiscent of Hood, rustic, even pastoral. The quiet meanders and micro-beats scatter a bit, and a heavy piano comes in. But eventually it too sounds like sleep, a gentle melancholic groove. More than less comfortable. A warm synth.

It sounds less than it feels — that is, like a weight on your shoulders: a warm, sad piano pattern and heavy strings pulling it above and down. (Often I think certain neo-classical compositions fall short in their relentless, pointless performance of beauty, as though significance was somehow born out of the bathetic. Here, there is only beauty wrested, beauty earned.) It sounds classy and mysterious, like Rachel’s at their best. The transition sounds light and ethereal, a jazzy electro-acoustic ambiance, like a space opened up or a weight lifted.

They discovered water on the moon. Not the kind boats float on, but, rather, ice. (Can you compose a satellite pastoral? I digress…) It sounds like Geneviève Castrée, but it’s Cuushe singing. Echoed and thumping, this is the most distant, yet — distant, but approachable, even connected, familiarly by strings and by resonant metal. The voice works itself into a something akin to a minor, singular, choral event. Strings emerge cinematically. Synthetic sounds, transformed to beats, drift (finally) warmly out, and back. Fading.

Together, and no less so apart, Ballads of The Research Department is a subtle, sophisticated, and gorgeous work of art.

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