Portrait of the Techno Artist as a Young Man
If you ever wondered what Pantha du Prince would sound like if there was earnest singing over the material, then Tobias Lilja’s Delirium Portraits, his follow-up to 2007’s Time Is On My Side, is the album for you. Lilja is a Scandinavian producer and artist in his late twenties who crafts very minimalist, dark ambient techno like du Prince, but layers over it a very plain and white bread voice. His singing, naturally, isn’t much to write home about, but his production skills are impressive. He coaxes out a very clean—antiseptic even—brand of techno-pop that, at first blush, eschews convention and offers all sorts of sonic twists and turns thanks to the coats of sound that he gradually overlays on songs like “Spineless” and “North” with glockenspiel-like precision. However, the deeper you get into Delirium Portraits, the more conventional it becomes, sounding at times like what Depeche Mode might sound like if they made glitch pop.
Despite the ebb of the album’s turgid mid-section, Delirium Portraits works best in its most Spartan and sparse moments. “Love Song” starts out with some icy minor-key piano chords being plucked, making it rub a little close to Radiohead’s recent “Codex”, before the song evolves into a series of bleeps and bloops that propel the song gently forward. Similarly, “Ellen’s Theme”, the shortest song at two and a half minutes on an album where the tracks frequently veer into the five and six minute range (and beyond), offers up more strikingly morose piano plucks making it seem like one of the instrumental passages on the Cure’s Seventeen Seconds. These two songs are moments of crystalline beauty, and they make one ache wishing that Lilja had more of these sullenly glorious segues up his sleeve. Delirium Portraits, thus, is a record where the parts are greater than the sum. It’s an intriguing listen if you can get past Lilja’s ordinary voice, which resembles U2’s Bono at times, and the fact that the bulk of the material is hardly innovative. “There’s nothing gothic about it,” sings Lilja at one point, but when the album peeks into the dark corners of the human psyche, Delirium Portraits is at its most honest, most revealing and most wonderful.
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