Visionist Safe

[PAN; 2015]

Styles: experimental, grime
Others: Dark0, Bill Kouligas, Suicideyear, Fatima Al Qadiri, Acre, Fliter Dread

Just a month ago, the UK saw the appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as new leader of the opposition party. On his first day, rather than respecting an expected appearance on television, Corbyn opted to attend an event promoting a national mental health trust, drawing criticism from the press. Of course, he hadn’t even appointed a cabinet yet. Getting around to the matter at hand, he went on to create the unprecedented post of “Minister for Mental Health,” asserting that, as a society, “we have to recognize that one in four of us during our lifetime will suffer a degree of depression, some if it will be very severe, some of it will be less so.” He went on: “Stop the jokes, stop the cheap jibes, stop the unpleasant language to describe people who are going through a crisis in their lives and recognize that we could all be in that place.” On the flip side is prime minister David Cameron who, relating to the government’s potential to intercede in the case of a planned execution of a Shia activist, has notably justified a somewhat questionable policy with the ironic assertion that it “keeps us safe.”

It’s not that Safe is an overtly political record as much as it is conceptual, necessarily, but it does fall against a backdrop that gives its concept — tracing “the arc of an anxiety attack, from its onset through to recovery” — increased potency. Indeed, a political ambience with an increased focus on mental health — in conjunction with a suspicious notion of “safety” — makes for an appropriate setting for the release. “Comfort, protection, salvation — this is what we search for,” states Visionist (a.k.a, Louis Carnell) in the press release. “We are taught that a life of no worries is better for us, and therefore we try to create one that is ‘Safe.’” The concept has a personal resonance for Visionist, who has dealt with anxiety himself. “When I first conceptually wanted to write the album, I was dealing with anxiety,” he tells Crack Magazine. Just as Corbyn called against societal ignorance, Carnell speaks of his discontent with how his anxiety was perceived, which also serves as inspiration. The theme is a familiar one in Visionist’s music, though maybe not explicitly stated. Previous tracks like “Pain” and “More Pain,” for example, also illuminated an element of suffering, anguish, and torment. For Safe, as with the aforementioned previous works, space is crucial. Here, it becomes metaphorical of one’s headspace, as events spark like fireworks from varying locations, reflective of mentally disoriented sparks within the brain. Sound intermittently cuts as silence takes over, leaving you isolated.

Opening track “You Stayed” sets out sparsely with two distinct layers: mutated, synthesized bells beneath hysterical vocal snippets. Like much of Safe, it contains shards of reverberant voices that appear like fragments of familiarity within a landscape of disorientation. It’s an appropriate opening for what’s to come, with sporadically denser, layered tracks composed of sonic stems of abnormal activity within nerve clusters, like those leading up to an attack. Atmospheric pads, choppy snares, reversed cymbals, and explosive kicks constitute “Victim,” one of the more compressed and violent at stake. In fact, one theory is that panic attacks stem from a particular cluster of nerves known as the amygdala, the same cluster that plays a significant role in fear and aggression. Likewise, while other producers use the same sonic tools in a fearful, aggressive manner, Visionist largely manages to bypass this nature, instead harnessing a sensitive, fragile disposition. “Tired Tears, Awake Fears” is a slightly distorted, crumbling composition, with synthetic stutters that flutter like butterflies — not merely in the sense of diurnal insects but also the queasy feeling, as from nervousness, excitement, etc.

The South London producer has been working with a similarly cavernous blend of grime and R&B for a while, always with an edge of experimentation comparable to parallel endeavors from artists like M.E.S.H., Arca, or Amnesia Scanner, setting Visionist apart from an array of more conservative instrumental grime producers. In that sense, Safe is an ironic title for a record where Visionist’s experimental tendencies are magnified. That said, PAN is a fitting home as a haven for experimentation, where it follows recent precedent releases from M.E.S.H., Lee Gamble, and Helm. While music is often used in therapeutic practice as a means to try to prevent, reduce, or control anxiety in patients — i.e., “relaxing music” — the music on Safe is embedded in the contours of an anxiety attack itself. Rather than an attempt at inducing states of rest, the music is contrarily restless and embroiled in agony. Closing track “Sleep Luxury” is the closest it gets to resolution, involving bubbling synths reminiscent of water, suggestive of becoming one with nature. Even so, it maintains an element of unnerve, yearning for a calmness that is ultimately out of reach.

Links: Visionist - PAN

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