Current Date: Sun, 09 Mar 2014 23:35:00 -0400
Imbue Up is the latest collection of atmospheric avant-pop from the Chapel-Hill-and Brooklyn-based duo Pressed And, comprised of UNC alumni Andrew Hamlet and Mat Jones.
Although this is their first collaborative LP, much of the recent history of the Triangle’s electronic music scene is embedded in these two’s not-so-distant past.
While a student, Hamlet worked closely with a young Vinyl Records, becoming president of the organization in his senior year. He also made up half of the Atlanta-based dance-pop duo, ArnHao, whose 2010 single, “Oh?! (Intangible Fantasy),” was released by Raleigh’s Denmark Records.
Despite the ridiculous title, “Oh?!” sports both crafty songwriting and impeccable production, united in the retro-chic, neo-new wave aesthetic that fared so well in 2010. From the dreamy, satiny synths to the seductively spoken vocals that end the track, “Oh?!” bears no small resemblance to Twin Shadow’s critically acclaimed Forget.
And yet ArnHao’s combination of fashionable aesthetics and high production value failed to garner any national press in 2010.
Jones, who records and releases individually as It Is Rain In My Face, was also linked to Vinyl. The label released his five-track, eponymous EP in 2009.
In 2011, It Is Rain In My Face published its Small Prayer EP, which manages to blend acoustic instruments with textural, electronic beats and delicate vocals in order to create a highly propulsive yet thoroughly organic record.
A passing resemblance to Animal Collective is certain, but Jones’ sense of composition and arrangement is even more daring and experimental: Avey Tare and Panda Bear never plastered jittery break-beats on top of gently strummed guitars like Jones does on “Trigger Finger.”
Despite its superb craftsmanship and a truly innovative aesthetic, Small Prayer — like “Oh?!” — went largely unrecognized.
Hamlet and Jones have solidly grounded the tasteful and inventive Imbue Up in a global electronic vogue similar to that which contextualized their independent releases. The record constitutes a unified sonic space, given depth by deftly applied reverb and textured by modulating synths.
References to various underground dance scenes also unite the largely ambient record. All seven tracks feature vocals time-stretched and pitch-shifted to the limits of their humanity — a hallmark of the London scene.
Indeed, a club sensibility resonates throughout the album. Although Imbue Up offers some highly experimental electronica, the album’s most kinetic cuts would not be totally out of place in a more meditative DJ set.
“Fire Shelf” immediately sets _Imbue Up_’s purple drank vibe, which the record fashionably shares with up-and-coming hip-hop collective ASAP Rocky and the trendy witch house sub-genre. An incomprehensible vocal sample plays like a drone, augmented by ethereal harmonies and a languid beat composed of syncopated kicks and crisp, marching-band snares triggered in a half time reminiscent of Houston’s chopped and screwed movement.
“Soul Muffin” contrastingly presents an up-tempo, psychedelic breakdown, littered with spoken words buried in a tense mix full of swirling synths and stabs of grizzled bass.
One of the record’s two standout tracks is “Blue Noun,” whose rolling percussion provides a brisk contrast to a radiant halo of mangled lyrics and airy keyboards.
The other is “Raid,” which begins with a combination of washy cymbals and electric piano that recalls Four Tet’s eerily pensive 2010 release, There is Love in You. From these brooding beginnings, “Raid” develops into a spacious yet soulful electronic jam, whose warm, familiar harmonic progression is grounded by sparse bass and brightly flecked with stylishly manipulated vocals.
If Pressed And has left itself vulnerable to one manner of criticism, it is that Imbue Up may be simply too fashionable.
Just as ArnHao’s “Oh!?” could have been casually mistaken for a track off of Forget, it would not be a stretch to confuse Imbue Up with Vondelpark’s recent EP, NYC Stuff and NYC Bags.
In other words, the innovative space that Pressed And has aimed to create may already be occupied, not by any fault of their own, but simply due to the scope and scale of a truly international scene.
In any case, Imbue Up is a national-quality record that will certainly bolster Chapel Hill’s growing electronic music community. Be on the lookout for Pressed And in the press — there’s a good chance that Imbue Up will finally garner Hamlet and Jones the national recognition that they deserve.
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