Review Summary: One of the most dynamic and beautiful debut albums to have ever been released, Old Raves End may just end up stealing 2011's heart
There’s a reason why we sit up late at night scouring various forums and blogs in search of new artists and tunes. Aside from wanting justification for our computer tans and the deep set rings under our eyes, we want to discover something like never before. We wish to be proven wrong in the notion that we’ve heard it all before, we want to believe that originality still lies within certain artists. And as time goes on it becomes increasingly difficult to actually be surprised anymore, the obvious reason of course lying in the question of how many different ways can one genre go? How many times can a musical style reinvent itself? How many genres can we add post too before we run out of places to attach our erstwhile hopes on to? And to prove this point we stay up until the wee hours and create our own little piece of originality, we cut and splice and warp music into our own neat little descriptors. If we can’t find it, we’ll make it. Sure, there’s still musicians and producers slaving away in tiny and cramped studios releasing great material to the most minimal of fanfare, but we as a wired-in and connected society seemingly shun them in favor of mutating genres into obscene new labels so we can hopefully pass it off as something incredibly new and fresh and claim that “original music” is still alive and well. We’re too busy exploiting something that’s ever so slightly different and busying ourselves with redundant arguments of where what should go and who should be called what, that when something wholly unique and gloriously beautiful reveals itself under its own accord we ignore it because we haven’t stumbled across it ourselves and tailored it to suit our own needs. So here I offer you an album that doesn’t need a place to sit, it doesn’t require intense debate and frivolous conversations to prove its worth and place of residence. It’s an album that just is
, because it’s too tranquil to dissect, too placid to tear apart. It’s also an album that nearly didn’t get made.
Upon hearing Swarms it’s hard to believe that, for a period, they made music simply for fun, a hobby to pass the time. On a whim, and the insistence of many a humble fan did they send their tracks to a few pirate dj’s, chief among them the one and only Mary-Anne Hobbs, quite possibly the biggest proponent in dubstep’s accelerated rise to the top. After being debuted to the masses via Ms. Hobbs’ acclaimed Radio 1 show, the record companies and deals were quick to follow. And it’s not hard to see why they came calling so quickly, how earnestly they tried to sign and push for a record as soon as humanly possible. There probably hasn’t been a single debut song in the history of dubstep to sound this breath-taking, this awe-inspiring since, well since El-B and co. came up with the idea of dubstep itself. And we’re all used to the concept of dubstep reconfiguring itself every few months now, we’ve all come to accept the various shapes and guises it’s turned into lately. So it really only adds to weight to the argument that Swarms might possibly be one of the finest groups to emerge within the genre since its bastard birth some twelve years ago when we were all that floored by the power and genius hidden deep within ‘Never Step On Me’. As subtle and hypnotic as that track was, it became apparent even from the start that we were all hearing something incredibly unique, that something marvelous was happening to the world of dubstep. And here we are, only a short time down the road and all of a sudden we now have a whole album’s worth to immerse ourselves in, a calming and unnerving pool of bouncy ambiance to wade in. And what we have in Old Raves End
, for lack of a better word, is perfection.
To understand Swarms you have to understand their unique background. Comprised of two members fluent in post rock and ambiance and one member a dirty basshead living in the distorted world of dubstep and drum & bass, the group’s combined output exists in a seemingly in-between world as a result of these somewhat odd pairings. Every track’s makeup is indebted to these opposing styles, each sound playing off each other in glorious tandem. Every song begins with a simple beat, a sketchy 2-step slowed down to a crawl until it almost falls into the realm of trip hop. And then waves of atmosphere and hazy synths wash over the skeletal framework, infusing it with a blissful exuberance. There’s always something cascading or rising to a crest before dispersing into a neon waterfall of binary and electronic soul. Coming off something so lifeless and artificial, it’s hard to believe how much emotion and precocious wonderment these three humble Bristol lads have been able to hammer into their tracks. At some point you expect the constant build up to just fall flat, to collapse under the weight of just how much it appears to be lifting, but the reality is that that moment never comes. There isn’t a second where anything is wasted, or put to delicate and fruitful use. At times it does manage to get a little overpowering, but it’s never crushing enough to force your attention away. In fact the only moments where you are afforded a brief reprieve is between each track, and they’re really only enough to take a small step back before letting yourself be washed away, again and again.
Even from word one Old Raves End
is a heady affair, and one that wastes no time in setting the scene. ‘T-1000’ is full on immersion, layers of delicately placed sounds all releasing at the same time, like sensory overload. There’s a faint heartbeat slowly pushing forward way down low, the flowing synths circling it like a flowing sea of energy. Vocals come in thick, clipped and tortured and hidden in plain sight, seemingly caught in the slow pull of the current and mercilessly being pulled along with it. ‘Chapel’ begins bleak like an old black and white scene long since left to slowly disintegrate before a torrent of color and light rises up out of nowhere, and ‘Flickr Of Ur Eyes’ begins with a slowly picked guitar line dancing its way over the insistent beat, like a flame caught in a tornado. ‘Hostile’ (borrowing from its namesake) strips back some of the emotional weight and goes for a more beat heavy approach, skimming over the immediate intrusiveness of its peers but still retaining all of the urgency and demand. There’s still an amorphous cloud of atmosphere attached however, rising up in the shadow of every beat. ‘Sky Below Sea’ finds its lazy lockstep hidden by a mass of looped vocals and disjointed piano countdowns and ‘Time Lapse’ gets itself lost by falling out of time with its backdrop. The drums fall in and out of the mix, sometimes anchoring the intangible strands of catharsis, at other times disappearing just to see how far away everything will float when its not tethered to the ground. Returning to the more complex beat symptoms of their earlier ep, ‘Bison’ rounds out the album with a more bass coated approach. Bells trickle throughout the mix, wind chimes that serves as warning for the coming storm.
There aren’t a great deal many ways to describe Old Raves End
without falling into the usual hyperbolic descriptors; words like powerful, cathartic, emotional and astonishing all apply here. But it’s hard to do the album justice with mere words, difficult to pin down and tag with such high ended praise. Swarms have crafted quite possibly the most beautiful release of the year so far, and on a whim no less. Old Raves End
is unassuming, hidden in tumbles and mazes. It has a voice that refuses to speak, instead opting to show rather than tell. It’s an album that serves as another key ingredient in dubstep’s push to remain uncategorized, it avoids restrictions and guidelines by flying so far over them that they become mere specks on the distant horizon, endlessly falling further and further away. Old Raves End
is the album that might just steal 2011’s heart, and even if it fails to accomplish that task in a year already ripe with fantastic releases already dropped and more still promised to us, it will remain, at the very least, perfect in every sense of the word.
This album is available as a download and CD (with instant DL included) at http://lodubs.bandcamp.com