Sam Genders former front man for Tunng, and The Accidental is releasing his third Diagrams album Chromatics. The experimental folk, psychedelic pop rock wizard’s sound has been compared to Bon Iver, Snow Patrol, Robyn Hitchcock and Crushing Stars. Genders has been busy both in his musical and private life, getting married and relocating from London to Sheffield. When asked about the move, Genders said he was looking for fresh pastures and new friendships. He describes Sheffield as a very open and direct place and the songs on this release are more that way too. Friendships and fresh pastures are at the heart of Chromatics.
Genders goal on Chromatics was to display life in all of its Technicolor with various ups and downs. Additional Chromatics is a study of relationships in their conflicts, frustration, beauty, wonder and sexy,scary glory. He drew inspiration from the writings on relationships by David Schnarch, Ester Perel, and the book Division Street by Sheffield poet Helen Mort. While Diagrams last album Black Light sizzled with electric effects, synth bass, and programming beats, Chromatics is a more organic effort falling closer to home comforts and marks the next step in Gender’s development.
As with prior Diagrams discs, this one was a very collaborative process. Friends and family members were all involved in the music making. Brass and string arrangements were courtesy of Danyal Dohondy and Sam Ewens. The duo Smoking Fairies helped in parts, and Karl Penney and Cacophony drummer Fletcher Adams provided drums. The song Brain was co written with long time friend Matt McKenzie and an ultrasound recording of Genders son James was also used at the end of the track. Diagrams live band members Emma Black assisted on Baritone Sax, and Ben Malitskie on Viola rounded out the gang lending a helping hand on the release. Producer Leo Abrahams (Wild Beasts, David Byrne, Brian Eno, etc.) Added crisp production and programming techniques.
The cool humming intro to Phantom Power sounds like the landing of a spaceship deceptively giving out to a great reverb acoustic guitar. The combo of techno pop with organic acoustic guitar makes for an unexpectantly compelling sound. The song is very likable and has this glistening sunny feeling. Gentle Morning Song is noteworthy with its Pete Buck like shimmering guitar. The song has a silken feel without being detached. It is sweet music for the darkly introspective.
Desolation has a recognizable James Mercer, Broken Bells sound. The wide atmospheric sound also reminds me of Crushed Stars. The title track Chromatics starts off with this glitchy telegraph machine sound and then uses an oscillating tempo to nice effect. It is best characterized as having an earnest floaty folk feel. The soaring vocal is emphasized by the open spaces of the lullaby accompaniment. The folk tinged song You Can Talk to Me is a song of encouragement for a loved one struggling through a tough situation. It can also be taken as the frustration any person has when they are forced to watch someone they love struggle with the daily challenges of life.
Shapes starts off with an awesome wind chime; I haven’t heard a good wind chime since The Cure’s Plainsong. The chimes add an ethereal touch to the song. About halfway through the song, it down shifts into this very ambient soundscape. The noticeably more rock track Dirty Broken Bliss is a catchy escapist tune. The song instructs the listener to make the best of all the thrown away bits of life and repurpose into something better. “All we need is Dirty Broken Bliss to get us over.”
Serpent is a showcase of the playfully eclectic. It is a song that sounds simple when it is really quite complex. Rolling out over a large aural space, and is reminiscent of the latest release by TV on the Radio. A hat tip is definitely needed on The Light and The Noise where Genders is channeling early REM, The Byrds, and Robyn Hitchcock. Swirling guitars abound and this is my favorite of the collection. Brain is a very engaging song that pulls out all the stops. The song twists and turns as it takes the listener through a maze of sound. The final song, Just a Hairs Breath is a folk lullaby. The beauty in the music conveys the message. “Just a hairs breathe away when it is hard to believe anything will every go right, keep your hopes alive.” The song is a truly touching finale to an engaging release.
Mr. Genders makes the complex simple and that is not an easy task, but he seems to have figured out the equation to get that end result. Chromatics is an enjoyable listen that goes from lulling smoothness to active engagement. There are many things going on in the arrangement and lyrics that require your full attention to completely appreciate the songs. There is genius in the mixing and the production is stellar. Chromatics is a great album to kick off the beginning of 2015.
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