Phantasmagoria Currents

[Five Three Dial Tone; 2012]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: ambient pop, dream pop, electronica pop, techno pop, night-drives, delicate-dance, meditative meanders
Others: Lykke Li, Caribou, Braids, Purity Ring, Four Tet

The computer breathes; it’s solar-powered or something, must be, and it’s got flecks of sand on its screen. Electronic music, so to speak. There are these beguiling moments of loud-quiet that can only (we presume) be experienced out in nature, the bracing outdoors, out in the clearing you find in the woods where a tournament of cawing cacophonies twist through the wings of the curtained trees, be it the nearby lake lapping on a rocky shore, a flock of birds spooked to flight, cicadas perfunctorily burring, or the crickets buzzing at your feet. Sticks fall or leaves shush and the wind cries “…currents.” In Phantasmagoria’s gaia-glamoured eyes, it’s the houses that are empty and paths lead back to the water; we won’t stay in our rooms and we’re up for finding other worlds, seeking portals, finding ways to get lost, climbing dunes, traversing jungles… Sounds like evocative psychedelic folk fare, but instead it’s captured through nocturnal electronica, the fuzzed-clatter of drum machines and the eerie wheeze of looped synthesizers. Take the lyrical torch and light your way through the chilly crystal caves.

This Detroit duo composed their first few releases (sets of introductory songs slung up on Bandcamps) with minds toward melding earthy aesthetics to blipped-out, blissed-out, glitch-spattered grooves. Their hearts are wrung with wanderlust, the pair still college-aged (and at times writing/singing from that characteristically wide-eyed perspective), and for as celestial as certain timbres, tones, and textures are throughout, Currents still manages to stoke a crackling campfire for warmth. Their winning qualities are composer Christopher Jarvis’ keen ear for ambient manipulations and singer Lianna Vanicelli’s sweet, siren-esque voice — the former affecting that ethereal heave of wind and leaves and water and creature-stirring and chirping at the edges of any hiking, straggling beachcomber through these tumbles of gravelly synth, rattles of thunders-bass, and dreamy drones breezing against the backdrops, the latter waves from a lower, syrupy croon up to a filmier quaver, a lullaby cooing atop the mostly serene and steady currents rippling along like glistening spring water.

There are no all-out dance jams here, no caustic noise freakouts; this is smooth sailing for a pair of still-green music-makers finding a way to get lost in music. What you’ll find through their idyllic, nature-mused/techno-tinged portals is a strange clearing where the grass-stained, woodsmoke-swathed, heart-on-a-sleeve lyricism gets charmed by the heady, beat-plodded Om of an electronica-sensibility — your meditative pulse paced with punchy beats that zest the sleek chop of drum machines with the tribal hand-to-skin slap upon congas, the snap of sticks, and the jangle of cabasas.

“Habitats” finds that loud-quiet. There’s so much going on: four different kinds of drums, a march-inspiring kick-drum, a shoulder-juking ratatat of sticks, and sequenced beats surging like machine guns, a mesmeric resonance of airy synth moans swarming all around the echo-dazzled vocals. Crunched into the corners, scurrying from one earphone panned to the other, is this curious breathing (call it synthetic wind), tones twisted dizzily. Gurgled bass booms burrow, but are still warmed by measured chimes of piano and Vanicelli’s purring vocals. That dizzy, that breathing: it mimics that certain pause that most wanderers find out there in the jungles or along the coasts of the water, that loud-quiet where they just stop and take it all in.

Not meant to be dance music, really. Not meant to be some dynamic revitalization of techno-pop. Not even, really, some revolutionary blend of earth-to-electro (been done before, sure; see: Four Tet, Dan Snaith, etc., etc., etc.). Currents is, let’s remember, a debut, so perhaps it’s not meant to be anything except for that first swelled sigh at the end of the what’s just the first leg of the/a journey.

“I think I’ll find a way to get lost,” Vanicelli sings. The nature of the current, I suppose, right?

Links: Phantasmagoria - Five Three Dial Tone

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