Monday, July 8, 2013

Album Review: Phaeleh - Tides

Album Rating: B
Confession time: I was thoroughly prepared to write off Phaeleh's Tides as a case of "more of the same" after hearing the beginning few tracks for the first time. Tides's trademark brand of warm, enveloping dubstep stuck out as exactly what Phaeleh had done so masterfully on Fallen Light, and opener "Journey," with its Hollywood strings, garage-tinged cymbals and subtle ebb and flow, seemed no different than much of the producer's earlier material. Of course, pigeonholing the album into the category of "NO INVENTION HURR DURR" is unfair. After all, who really cares that "Here Comes the Sun" follows closely in the footsteps of "Afterglow?" Sure, both songs feature Soundmouse wailing about wordlessly and beautifully. Sure, there's a suspiciously similar clap/snare in both. And sure, in both cases the bass comes in after a particularly spare moment, perfectly timed. At the same time, though, "Afterglow" is my go-to song when I want to demonstrate to friends that dubstep isn't all womps and bangs. What's more, "Here Comes the Sun," rather than coming off as a shameless ripoff, sits as more of a revamped and reimagined version of an excellent example of Phaeleh's sound.

That being said, though, Tides is exceedingly safe. Though "more of the same" is too simplistic a view, Phaeleh retreads a lot of ground here, as is evident with strings, stormy vocals, and shimmering synths all over the place. There's more variety here in terms of genres than some of his previous work: the trip-hop of "Tokoi," the footwork of "Never Fade Away," the beat-less "more-than-an-interlude" mentality of "A Different Time." However, there's that same thread of Phaeleh's signature sound running through everything, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing it does serve to make things sound just a bit same-y. If he were doing something crazy like totally reinventing his take on garage, the whole thing would be a lot better. However, given Tides is only a minor reworking of his previous sound, everything ends up falling a little flat.

That's not to say the album isn't good. Phaeleh is a master of his craft, and the sparse, snowy sonic backdrops he creates are nothing short of breathtaking. "Whistling in the Dark" is particularly impressive, with beautiful harmonics and shallow kicks complementing Augustus Ghost's sultry harmonies. "A Different Time" follows much the same path, as its clean electric guitar and disembodied vocals set the stage well for an uncharacteristically menacing bassline to fit right in with the rest of the piece. However, it's a tiny bit disappointing Tides wasn't more. Gorgeous, wandering synths abound, but there's still that niggling feeling that the album could have been a masterpiece with a pinch more experimentation and pushing boundaries. Phaeleh already knows what it's like to shift what's accepted in dubstep, after all - just look at Fallen Light. It's wishful thinking at this point, of course, but if only Tides just took that extra step past "logical progression" towards "innovative" - if only, if only...


Track List:
1. Journey
2. Here Comes The Sun
3. Storm
4. Tokoi
5. Whistling In The Dark
6. Tides
7. Never Fade Away
8. Night Lights
9. A Different Time
10. So Far Away
11. Distraction 

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