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Chymera - Death by Misadventure

Connaisseur recordings
Technology is uncomfortable with the album form. Electronic music, particularly that which is aimed at the dancefloor – i.e. ‘tracks’ as opposed to ‘songs’ – resists conceptual unity, more often reimagining the album as a curated archive that makes no claim towards being any more than the sum of its parts. Digital distribution has meanwhile dissolved physical boundaries and, in so doing, attempted to reveal the very idea as an illusory one. While listening becomes increasingly fragmented, those characteristics that have long defined the format – duration, order of sequence, artwork to a certain extent – increasingly look like silly impositions.

Given all of this, it surely now takes a certain strength of artistic character to produce a collection of tracks that justifies being presented as an album. On Death By Misadventure however, Chymera falls so short of this that it’s difficult to tell whether or not it is deliberate subversion. This is not necessarily to say that the music itself is poor; in fact it delights and repulses in equal measure. Rather, it is a frustrating listen because the contents sit so uneasily with one another, exhibiting a schizoid edge that is seemingly more affliction than aesthetic choice. Flitting between Balearic bliss, melodic house, moody techno, breakbeat nostalgia, and pop sensibilities, there are various personalities at play. But instead of conflicting interests being a source of creativity, some elements of the album end up undermining others such that I find myself wishing they had been kept apart.

It is not just the stylistic disparity that is off-putting however; inconsistencies in taste and competence also make for a difficult listen. When, for example, the limp preset bass patch appears on ‘An Island In Space’, or the VST delay on ‘Strange Things Are Afoot’, the effect is to cut right through the otherwise shimmering production. Like typos in the middle of Wordsworth, suddenly the studio jumps to the forefront, the medium sabotaging the message. The ear is unsettled by this sort of thing, it starts listening for further transgressions, reassessing previous judgments, becoming a harsher critic.

‘Drowning’ is the consummate Ibizan sunset, its vocal pads ebbing and flowing in sultry mimesis of beachside luxury, while the harmonic shift halfway through opener ‘The Drop’ elevates it to Groove Armada-esque stadial heights. ‘Fathoms’, with its backmasking and glassy droplets tripping off an insistent pulse, does rather more to embed itself under the skin instead of just washing inoffensively over it. A similar quality is heard in the wailing atmospherics of ‘Aloof’: dubby synths bounce off a glistening piano tremolo, while the groaning pulsewidth bass from Autechre’s ‘Clipper’ floats beneath.

Certain tracks on the album come off like a more naive take on the nostalgia ‘n’ bass direction Scuba is currently pushing, from the Italo chord stutter of ‘An Island In Space’ to the collapsing breaks, fluttering Hammond, and 80s Nintendo glissandi of ‘Who Bends First’ (one of the more polished and secure efforts to recommend the album). But where Paul Rose’s music is confident almost to the point of being brash, Chymera seems nervous of pursuing a single idea to its end, or exploring its possibilities. ‘Trapped In Amber’ instead sees the unwelcome return to electronic music of Bulgarian close harmony singing, the dissonant second intervals meshing unnervingly, if intriguingly, with the bubbling synthwork, the offspring of an unwilling consummation between Pink Floyd’s ‘on The Run’ and Kate Bush’s Sensual World.

After a stilted tribal start, ‘My Karass’ takes us back to the San Antonio roof terrace, watching the twilight fade and wondering how we’ve managed to sustain the sickly cliché for so long, in a sentiment that sets an apt tone for the following track. Where previous tracks had just about walked the treacherous line between sheen and schmaltz, the misguided and unnecessary bout of vocal electronica that is ‘The Chase’ finally tips the balance the wrong way. After this, I’m not sure whether my concentration has been terminally wounded, or if recent 12” ‘Strange Things Are Afoot’ is genuinely thoroughly pedestrian. I would suggest the latter, given that I find myself returning to Conforce and Claro Intelecto’s respectively chunkier and more crystalline versions on that single’s reverse.

It is telling that previous Chymera releases have largely been two to three track affairs: the discomfort the artist feels with the album format couldn’t be more audible. “Just pick the ones you like and discard the rest!”, it will be argued. But if an artist chooses to deliver music in this manner in 2012, then they ask, quite reasonably, for a degree of investment that is increasingly unusual. They thus become a guardian of the listener’s trust in musical narrative. Inside the walls of an album, the reception of a track is wholly dependent on its context. Like the tumbling house prices of Fred West’s neighbours, the stock of even the best track on Death By Misadventure tumbles by virtue of its positioning within the whole.

Toby Bennett

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