June 13, 2011

Bachelorette – Bachelorette

Drag City / Particle Tracks; 2011

Whether it’s been the icy minimalism of The xx or the sparse bedroom folk of Bon Iver, negative space has experienced a mild resurgence in certain indie circles in the past couple of years. Some might consider it an old compositional trick, while others feel it’s a natural reaction to the overly arranged and copious instrumentation of acts like Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire (not to mention their less than creative acolytes). Personally, I like the extra space in the music, mostly because it gives me space to comprehend what’s going on musically before the music heads into the next section.

If there’s anything that Bachelorette has in spades on its new self-titled project (the group’s third), it’s room in the arrangements. This eleven-track record is a fine example of the sort of wispy, spectral electro-folk created by contemporaries like Bat For Lashes and Orenda Fink, not to mention the aforementioned Bon Iver and The xx. If I were to be extra obtuse in my comparisons, I’d make the allusion that the music comes across as a pastoral soundtrack to TRON as envisioned by Goldfrapp or M83. To get even weirder on you, some sections of this record brought to mind the sort of light, arty transition pieces composed by the likes of ‘70s prog icons Rush, Genesis, and Yes.

In other words, there’s plenty of ebb and flow to the pacing of this music, as rushes of bubbling energy split time with chilly melancholy. The vocals are doused in reverb, the synth melodies dance and twirl about, and the occasional sturdy acoustic guitar strum typically makes room for layers of strings, beats, and washes of atmospheric noise. Most notably, the best songs – “The Light Seekers,” “Digital Brain,” and “Not Entertainment” – contain strong bass roots that prevent the tunes from wholesale floating away and being ho-hum angelic, ethereal selections.

Despite the warm flourishes, the band also feels rather distant – maybe it’s longing, and maybe it’s the distance is intentional. On one hand, I want to curl up with a loved one under a blanket against the cold; on the other, I feel compelled to wander alone in that same cold environment. The resultant emotions I feel emanating from these songs are conflicted in tone, and at its worst, with cuts like “Sugarbug,” “The Last Boat’s Leaving,” and “Waveforms,” it all feels like dreamy lullabies for grown-ups with very little heft or capacity to get stuck in your memory.

On the whole, I dig the vocal treatments permeating Bachelorette, as this is the main instrument driving the record and creating the sense of negative space that I brought up at the beginning of the review. Yet for all of my praising of the idea of negative space, there are times when the album becomes too quiet and dim – what music there is isn’t strong enough to stand out on its own against the stillness. Less can certainly be more, but you can only take away so much substance before you’re left with songs that are mere shadows of what they could have been.

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