Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Album Review: Volor Flex - Unlit

Album Rating: B
If the name Burial were to be dropped at the very beginning of a review, you’d know what to expect from the album: female samples covered in those comforting clicks and clacks to the dull gloom of bass. For Volor Flex’s first two LPs this would be apt, considering his self description as a Burial tribute-come-worshiper act. Many found these two releases to fall too close to the tree: dissatisfied with the sheer degree of imitation regardless of Volor Flex’s growing sense of self within this framework. Unlit arrives fresh after a small, not very well received EP on Apollo in which Volor Flex attempted to branch out with less than mixed success. This new LP sees him reign back his style to the sort he’s comfortable creating, with a keen eye on developing the staple sound rather than replicating it. Any Burial comparisons, especially at the beginning of a review, would therefore be unfair. I’m sorry I mentioned it.

First impressions can be deceiving, however, as under the watchful eye of Liar and Jesse Somfay (Borealis), Volor Flex seems to be moving from one scene to another instead of displaying much of himself. More specifically, he’s moving from the dark, depressive indulgence of London to the colourful depressive indulgence of Eastern Europe. Both styles hark back to shared origins, so a coupling of the two births a remarkably coherent tone, albeit with extra unnecessary additions in places as is often the case with inbreeding. As a result, the album becomes more about the interaction between the two and when they show themselves rather than any individual style brought by the producer.

Unlit introduces itself in a much more playful and creative fashion than its predecessors. Springing basslines and off-beat samples make “Venus” progress more dexterously than previous work would lead us to expect, though it clings to London dubstep’s arm tightly for these first few steps. The same could be said for the title track, although it chooses to echo the muffled-dance vibe instead. Mainland influences are difficult to catch until the second half, with “Better Believe” and “Golgotha” fully embracing them to form the two highlights of the album. The former sports heavily layered, polyrhythmic samples opposed with the typical bass gloom to push for a powerfully bittersweet mood. The end result catches the strain of serene desperation typical of the scene perfectly, as well as being morosely catchy. “Golgotha,” on the other hand, attempts to suffocate a dreamy, swirling melody with fluctuating bass and percussion. It will slowly move in and out of frame, at times submerged and other times clear in a tidal fashion, and ends up being quite beautiful in a twisted, Eastern European way.

Elsewhere Unlit struggles to bring much in the way of anything new to the table. As solid as the album is overall, a couple of tracks -especially in the midsection- can feel a little lifeless and unexciting. There remains plenty to explore with tracks like “Wasted Years” and “Tales From the North,” but the small hindrances prevent Unlit becoming his own Untrue. While Volor Flex certainly seems to have a strong grasp at how to imitate both sides of the dark garage sound, the album shows how it works best when he combines them into a beautiful, webbed-footed whole. Any attempts to do so without the foreplay would be more than appreciated.

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