četvrtak, 11. srpnja 2013.

Blue Hawaii - Untogether (2013)

Pop stvoren dvostrukim ogledalima koja iz trostruke šume vade psihičko ljepilo.

The spacious production on Blue Hawaii’s cold and introspective Untogether reflects the self-awareness and delicacy of a pair composing in separation, and their mediation in communication: how technology and art influence modern human relationships. In the two years since their debut Blooming Summer, they have seen their Montreal scene change with some launched into international success and others turned deeper inward. The album finds the conflict of separation/belonging to one’s self and community.
Throughout the changing social and personal landscape of one’s twenties, these divided notions and people somehow stay together. The name Blue Hawaii suggests a melancholic, jaded paradise, but a paradise after-all. It is because – or perhaps in spite of – these disjointed intersections that the record is called Untogether.

In 2010, Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Alexander Cowan spent a couple of months wandering around Central America, and when they came back they made an EP that sounded like an uncommonly lyrical "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay: eight songs of humid, sun-kissed, heart-on-its-cut-off-sleeve electro-pop. Of course, Blue Hawaii was not the only band on the beach in 2010, but Blooming Summer managed to sound like something unique. Standell-Preston's voice moved through these songs like a jellyfish, tumbling with such grace that its sudden sting came as a surprise. "I think about you thrusting into her," she sang on the best song "Blue Gowns", her voice full of anguished jealousy and self-reproach, "And I ask myself, how stupid can you get?" Blooming Summer captured the joys and fears of a new relationship (Standell-Preston and Cowan are a couple) with careful precision, but it also felt unassumingly excellent. Blooming Summer had a quiet release on then-very-niche label Arbutus; you can still download it on their Bandcamp for $1. Standell-Preston became better known for fronting the more guitar-driven band Braids, while Blue Hawaii seemed destined to be a side project little known to people outside the couple's friends in the Montreal DIY scene. Then, of course, that scene blew up.
Sudden, international attention is sometimes enough to make a tight-knit regional scene implode, but in the past few months a few other artists have risen to the occasion and started to fill out the spotlight that Grimes has shone on her home scene Montreal. Doldrums, the scrappy, sample-heavy project from junkyard dreamer Airick Woodhead, stepped up with Lesser Evil, a full-length debut full of soaring, dystopian party anthems, while brooding duo Majical Cloudz recently made the leap from Arbutus to indie-giant Matador on the heels of a strong, idea-packed EP. But there's a downside to this kind of opportunity; people move on.  "As friends grow past the Montreal scene and leave, there's a kind of falling apart there,” Cowan said in a recent FADER interview. When you listen to Blue Hawaii's first proper full-length, Untogether, this comment feels not like a diss to anybody in particular so much as a creative statement of purpose; it contextualizes the themes of disconnect, alienation and independence that coarse through Untogether. As Standell-Preston put it, "I think [making the record] was an attempt to find the glue as everything was drifting apart."
She was actually talking about her partnership with Cowan as much as her hometown. (Well, creatively speaking, not romantically-- they're still together.) In the three years since the cohesive Blooming Summer, they’ve ventured down slightly separate paths: Standell-Preston's taken a more new-agey route (experimenting with avant-garde make-up in performance; making small-talk about chakras in interviews) while Cowan spent some time absorbing EDM culture in Europe. But, true to its title, Untogether is less interested in blending all its competing enthusiasms together and more intent on emphasizing the space that separates them-- in that way at least, it's kind of the anti-Visions. Standell-Preston's vocals are routinely snipped, chopped and pasted back together like ransom notes, while Cowan steers the tracks with underlying trancelike rhythms. Untogether sometimes feels like a reaction against Blooming Summer's easy, inviting pop pleasures-- which is not necessarily a bad thing. At its most evocative, Untogether creates the eerie feeling of being the only person in a cavernous, strobe-lit club. Take the awesome two-part highlight "In Two"-- where the atmosphere's so diffuse and desolate that even a sudden intrusion of handclaps doesn't  feel like a moment of collectivity or unity. Instead, it only emphasizes the feeling of isolation: the claps sound distant, drifted in, and possibly made by ghosts.
"The other day, I had a beautiful thought," Standell-Preston sings on the closing track, "The Other Day", and then lets loose the most elegant-sounding DGAF in recent memory, "What if I didn’t care at all?" It's a freeing moment-- unclasping the pressures of the scene, the stress of communicating with another person, and all the other anxieties that have pulsed beneath the 10 songs that came before it. It's also a much-needed moment of repose. The problem with Untogether is that that Blue Hawaii occasionally get carried away with emphasizing and embracing disjointedness. Cowan's fingers are a little trigger happy, and so the subdued, gradually unfurling beauty of "The Other Day" hints at what might have happened had they given some of these songs a little more breathing room. Like the haunting single "Try To Be", "Day" feels like a moment of both restraint and unity-- Cowan's rippling arpeggios compliment (rather than interrupt) Standell-Preston's crystalline vocals. Blue Hawaii still bloom most vividly when they're working together. - Lindsay Zoladz

Blue Hawaii are an interesting case for the creeping influence of electronic music. The Montreal duo's last few releases of wispy folk-pop featured synthesizers, but they still felt like window dressing to music that was rooted in other traditions. Not anymore—Agor and Raph have discovered dance music and crafted a bewitching album of sparse pop that incorporates its textures and timbres rather than trying to imitate the music itself.

The two apparently wrote much of the album separately, which explains why Untogether often feels like Agor is attacking Raph's delicate songs with electronics, or as if she's asserting her presence over his undergrowth of artificial sounds. The disparate process arguably adds to the album's cohesion; one gets the sense that each partner was hesitant to go too far with their additions. The result is a record that's sensually stark, with not one extraneous moment marking its naked contours.

The album's most dominant element is silence. Between Raph's voice and Agor's subtle electronics, every dolorous sound is clear and sharp-edged. Opener "Folow" is an impressionistic array of transient sounds and vocals held in place by flat slabs of bass. Its conclusion also reveals Untogether's strongest attribute: looped, wordless vocals creating brand new melodies. It's a tactic borrowed from bass music and reused here to surprisingly good effect.

Some of the album's best moments come when Blue Hawaii up the dance ante. The stunning "In Two" suite is dizzy and diffuse in its throbbing second movement. Raph defiantly climbs atop the seasick crush of voices, commanding silence as she sings "It doesn't hurt, it only makes me sicker/And we, wiser/An end to us." It's simple but piercing, revealing an unsettling lyrical undercurrent for those who can pick out concrete words amongst the artificial stutters.

As its title would suggest, Untogether concerns itself with a dried-up relationship. Handling the subject with approachable honesty, the duo run the gamut from breakup songs to "Sweet Tooth," which describes the virtues of making love to someone you know truly well. "Try To Be" might just be the group's best, ruminating on identity, disappointment and independence. It's also the record's most organic track, following the heavily manipulated opener—a palate cleanser of acoustic guitar and voice bathed in luxurious reverb. In the verses, Raph sings against a fleeting chorus of her own voices, before gently soaring solo and then crash-landing right back into the thicket of gasping sighs. It's beautiful, and confusing—impossible to tell if her earthy tones are wistful or triumphant. It's one of the many mysteries on Untogether, a record that uses its shadowy atmospheres as an escape route even when it sounds stripped bare. It's post-modern pop for a generation growing more obsessed with dance music. - 

It's hard to determine what the end result of Canadians BRAIDS' 2011 charm offensive on the UK was, given that they've not really returned to finish the job yet. Whether they were supporting The Antlers or Wild Beasts on tour, playing industry-packed urban crawls or outdoors in the great British wet – not to mention other engagements in Europe and their native North America – they appeared to be everywhere for a time. But they left as quickly as the buzz began to hum, leaving behind only Native Speaker, a mini-album whose quirks were soft-tipped, searching for exit points that they've - as yet - not come back to discover.

One of the most striking aspects of their introduction at-large was the singular vocal of Raphaelle Standell-Preston. Her voice stood out from the instrumental ripples of its surroundings, gracefully arcing this way and that, holding within its spectrum detached placidity, blooded emotion, whimsy. Blue Hawaii is the intimate project of her and partner, Montreal artist Alex 'Agor' Cowan and, as its name would suggest, it isn't fully detached from the sort of woozy paradise that her other group conjured. The couple's only previous release together was 2010's Blooming Summer EP which, technically, was a much more basic take on their mixture of live instrumentation, field sounds and electronic pulses, but fitted similarly with the loosely wandering, journey-like evocations of BRAIDS' material.
On Untogether, though, there are glitches, aberrations among the album's desire to lay languid. There are sections that feel like they've been pulled up from the LP's natural progression and set down elsewhere; sometimes you can almost see the cut and paste of the audio software interface through the aural patchwork, the veil coming down on all this atmospheric magic making. This in part was the duo's intention; as opposed to Blooming Summer – made whilst the pair travelled through Central America together – Untogether was written in the winter in their native Canada. The couple recorded their parts separately, alternating night studio shifts in an effort to explore the effect of creative communication between two people kept apart by time and place. The result is that the album takes on an increasingly icy and dislocated disposition as it goes on: listen to the candle-lit affinity of 'Try To Be,' fingerprints barely marked by the nylon of the track's acoustic guitar as Standell-Preston's voice contents itself in murmur, and compare that with the programmed snags and stutters that gradually creep in, discombobulating and disorientating the vocal flow. It's a ruse that seems successful, the singer sounding isolated and alone on the lost sounding, nostalgia-tinged coda 'The Other Day'.
But, really, the threads joining the two musicians hold fast. That Kompakt are a distributor for this record is telling: the glitchy rhythms assembled by Agor evoke the sort of colour-flushed skies/post-club morning imagery that resides in much of the Cologne techno label's catalogue. There's an awkwardness to the skittering clicks, a manifestation, perhaps, of the self-enforced awkwardness and separation that he and his partner have placed upon themselves in the making of this album – an artificial boundary they've set against the grain of their love. On tracks like 'In Two' and 'Daisy', the webs of burbling synth feel like they've been put up as automated barriers for the vocalist to break down, each track a hurdle, a new environment which must be adapted to.
She does so effortlessly. In spite of the chops, the loops, the pitch shifts, her voice – the record's most overtly human element – is what pulls the pieces together as a cohesive listen. Indeed, the best moments on Untogether are where she's left to sound her most natural and emotive: the aforementioned intimacy of 'Try To Be,' the soaring grace of 'In Two/In Two II.' Relatively untouched and alone, Standell-Preston is allowed to delicately wander across contrasting themes of loneliness and community, trying to make sense of the unidentifiable bonds that keep people together. The question of whether BRAIDS will return or not melts away in this deeply personal insight into Blue Hawaii's emotional and physical connections with one another. - Simon Jay Catling

One thing should be made explicitly clear to anyone embarking on a trek through the somber terrain that is Untogether: happiness will not be found here. Rather, Blue Hawaii’s sophomore effort takes a sharp turn away from the direction of their sun-dappled debut, exploring the dark side of the dichotomy that is electronic music. Untogether is not an album saturated with Balearic club bangers or infectious hooks. Over the course of eleven songs, a chilly aesthetic is cultivated with the help of sparse, prickly arrangements and distorted vocals. Untogether uses the chrome-coated, impersonal side of electronica to alienate the listener, leaving them cold and alone in the often barren soundscape.
Blue Hawaii, composed of Alex Cowan and vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston, is a product of the burgeoning experimental music scene in Montreal that has already developed the talents of artists such as Grimes, Purity Ring, and Majical Cloudz. Traces of mutual influences abound on Untogether, which evokes the frigid, nocturnal ambience of the less upbeat tracks on Grimes’ Visions. Blue Hawaii diverges from its contemporaries in that it does not try to create a confection that might enjoy crossover success. Strong choruses (such as Purity Ring’s) will not be found on Untogether, nor will rhythms anywhere near the occult anthems of Grimes. Untogether, unified in its bleak tone, is an album that does not try to shelter the listener from the icy Canadian winter.
In the span of five minutes, album opener “Follow” goes through three distinct phases. Beginning with synths fading ominously between the background and foreground like ghosts floating in and out of existence, and the unintelligible vocals of Standell-Preston doused in reverb, the first two minutes of “Follow” form a bracing, surrealist nightmare. The next phase of the track introduces gentle percussion as well as discernible lyrics. Standell-Preston coos over the now fully present synthesizers, expressing her laments in an ethereal tone that hovers over the brooding rhythm. The final sonic shift occurs with less than a minute of “Follow” remaining. Standell-Preston’s spectral voice gives way to a twilight zone-esque thirty seconds of chirps and echoes. The introduction is now complete, and having endured the eerie tumble down the rabbit hole, the listener arrives in a dystopian wonderland devoid of any color.
blue hawaii Review: Blue Hawaii   <i>Untogether</i>
“Try To Be” garnered early praise, and for good reason. It is the most immediate track on Untogether, with lyrics that remain coherent across the entire span of the song. The simplistic guitar rhythm that guides the track is the closes thing to warmth on Untogether, an earthly sound in an album saturated with the gloomy reverberations of artificiality.
The third and fourth tracks, “In Two” and “In Two II,” coalesce into one continuous melody. Both portions form the most transfixing song on the album, guided by a beat that would fit on tamer varieties of house music. This is the closest one will ever get to dancing on Untogether, and it should be relished. The two tracks are the last flickers of light on the album, one final gasp for air before diving into the inky deep that Untogether is a denizen of. “It doesn’t hurt / It only makes you sicker than me / Wiser / The end to us,” sings Standell-Preston in an eerie detachment, before the final percussion passes, and Untogether sinks beneath the surface.
Beginning with “Sweet Tooth” and continuing through the end of the album, Untogether fades away into its own aesthetic. The bleakness that compounds with each song only depresses the listener more. Despite the deployment of several catchy gimmicks across the seven-song span (the scatterbrained, metallic synths on “Sierra Lift” and the ghostly, post-tropical sounds on “Reaction II”), attention is never regained, and Untogether ultimately succumbs to its own spell. The sounds of alienation and depression are portrayed so effectively, that Untogether becomes less of an album to listen to, but a soundtrack to one’s internal struggles.
Untogether will never find itself on a summer playlist, nor any compilation meant to be played at an occasion with even a hint of happiness, but that is not where its value lies. It is intensely personal, tangled in the sentiments that privately plague each of us. Untogether is meant for those cold, murky nights in which we feel completely and utterly alone. - JEAN-LUC MARSH

Blooming Summer (2010) streaming

The warmth of the electronic element is almost frightening. By this I mean to say, that music of this tremendous beauty, composed through elements completely opposed to natural history, seems to vaguely hint at a new precipice of human evolution, where we lose track of ourselves entirely. Who is this second Prometheus whom hath given us this blue flame and how does he suffer for his generosity?
But now we must speak plainly… Blooming Summer seems to come together with an un-canny ease, one that could only possibly express a true and monumental love between its two collaborators. Do not even attempt to show me a more beautiful voice or gentle nature than Raphael’s, for you will not be able to find one. As Percy Blysse said to Mary Shelley whilst rowing their boat across the River Styx: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll cherish you always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”
For the moment, I need no other piece of art than Blooming Summer. I am satisfied and can rest in harmony with the blooming summer. Girls and boys, they love in the color blue….arbutusrecords.com/

Blooming Summer one-ups the genre around it in one very important way: it is deep. And that isn’t for the record’s lush sound either; the layered electronica here is as deeply-rooted and well thought out as Life Of Leisure or Summer Heart, but musicianship aside, Blue Hawaii has created a record with great emotional weight, at times so intense and so painful you won’t go back for a while. “Blue Gowns” can’t be a holiday pop song or a nostalgia trip because it stings with longing. It reads more than anything like a break-up piece in its despairing lyrics (“I see you thrusting into her / and I think how stupid can you get?”) and is felt a hundred times over in Agor’s unsettlingly genuine vocal performance in which she spills over the music made for her. The melodies are heartfelt all over, but it’s Agor that makes this record something graphic and meaningful, her croons on “Lilac” and her distant murmurings on “Dream Electrixra” that make it a captivating listen rather than another summer-only LP. This is anything but soothing, and as a result Blooming Summer is the perfect chillwave record, taking the tropical pop fun and translating it into something more than beach photos. It goes beyond being the vintage electronica sound we’ve all been tuned into over 2010’s course by throwing panging honesty into the mix. And with the execution of tracks such as “Lilac” and “Lonelyhearts” as touching as the theme itself, you’re going to feel this. - Robin Smith 

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