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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vampillia - Alchemic Heart: B+

For those of you who checked out my list of favorite albums of 2010, you may have noticed another list on there of considerable length of all the albums I had yet to grade. Since that December 31st posting, I have listened to and graded a lot of the albums on that list. Some of them I have enjoyed quite a bit, enough to place them in the top fifty of that massive aggregate.

An album released in 2010 that particularly peaked my interest post
-2010 was a collaboration between UK trip hop producers The Orb and Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Metallic Spheres was made up of two tracks, each a part of a metallic sphere whole. Each was made up of around twenty minutes of warped voices, reverbed guitars and indelible hooks that were perverted into dystopian dance rhythms. It was the optimal thing you could expect from a forty-minute album that consisted of only two tracks; oscillating odysseys that hardly got stale.

The excellence of Metallic Spheres has left a great impression on me since I first encountered it, so I cannot help but make it a reference when listening to the second album by Osaka artist Vampillia, Alchemic Heart. It too is a forty-minute album comprised of two tracks that each exceed the twenty-minute mark; the first is called “Sea” and the second is called “Land”. And like songs that need to fill up a lot of time short of playing a medley of Led Zeppelin songs ala Dream Theater’s A Change of Seasons, Alchemic Heart moves very, very slowly.

Which is fine. Within its own context, Alchemic Heart can gradually wash over the listener because it has a lot of time to do so and, thankfully, Vampillia have something to say. “Sea” first features a female voice reciting English poetry at a barely audible whisper. Slowly but surely, the track incorporates melodramatic piano and string arrangements until it bursts to life at its midpoint, not unlike a Boris track in its drawing of beauty from mind numbing distortion. It’s a very good listen, even if it does sound a little overblown (Man with monocle: Ah, the liberation of suffocation!). It’s an elegant and well-executed journey, its length hardly an obstacle towards its enjoyment.

However, what makes Alchemic Heart not so great is that “Land” evolves in almost the exact same way. Japanese drone group Merzbow lends a hand in the distortion the second time around (the group frequently collaborates with Boris, which, from the sound of the album, should surprise no one), but the track feels redundant. Perhaps the tones in the buildup are a tad more mechanical or the post-climactic musings more cacophonous, but, when that distortion kicks in to take the track to its calculated peak, it comes off like legitimate déjà vu. I can understand it’s difficult to remain fresh on tracks that exceed the twenty-minute mark, but it’s hard to tell if Vampillia actually tried. “Land” seems to take the “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality to music making, and it’s about as effective as it was on the last AC/DC album.

Which is to say that it’s still quite good. If you’re a premium music listener, you may be better served to just listen to “Sea” (which, admittedly, feels like telling you to eat half the cake instead of all of it), but Alchemic Heart is still remarkably consistent, especially considering how redundant and boring it could have been. The track lengths will undoubtedly be daunting to listeners unaccustomed to this technique, but it really shouldn’t get in your way. Alchemic Heart has its flaws, but it still holds up very well on its own terms and its problems can be easily solved with future releases. Honestly, it was the length hurdle that was the hard part. Now it’s just a matter of tweaking the style. 


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