Lilacs & Champagne is an all-or-nothing type of experiment. As evidenced by the pervasive mood and bizarro samples of their excellent self-titled debut, the duo—comprised of Grails members Alex Hall and Emil Amos—have from the get-go established their sound as one of a kind. It’s not particularly hard to find good trip-hop that cleverly incorporates out-of-context quotes and spliced beats into diverse sonic collages; with an example like Entroducing… set not too long ago, aspiring DJs have followed suit. Upon listening to any single track by Lilacs & Champagne, however, it’s immediately clear that it’s the work of Hall and Amos and no one else. This isn’t the type of stuff one could just replicate with a slipshod beats-and-pieces technique. The two have nailed the “‘70s cop movie filtered through a haze of bong smoke” aura to a perfect T, a trend that continues on their sophomore outing, Danish & Blue, released through the Brooklyn label Mexican Summer. (To wit, there’s even a song called “Police Story” on this LP.) Hall and Amos make the kind of music that drives music critics bonkers with the need to come up with new classificatory tags; “psychedelic spy movie trip-hop,” “mood-trip,” and “paranoia-beat” are just a few regrettable hypothetical names that come to this critic’s mind. This, of course, is a testament to the creativity behind this duo, something that is especially commendable given how successful Danish & Blue is at re-capturing and re-invigorating the formula set out by Lilacs & Champagne.
For the most part, this LP doesn’t do much to change the mood-centric style of the debut, though some changes are incorporated throughout. Conceptually, it’s a stronger work; it opens with “Metaphysical Transitions” and closes with “Metaphysical Transitions II”, suggesting that all the cuts in between form a sort of reverie—not an unreasonable thing to imagine, given the frequently unpredictable twists and turns Hall and Amos take. The tranquil, French Riviera-evoking acoustic guitar of “Alone Again and..” gives way to the smooth lounge bass of “Police Story”. “Honest Man” opens with a phased out sample of what sounds like an FM soft rock track, only to later give way to a doomy piano melody. The latter is another area where Danish & Blue differentiates itself from its predecessor; the more liberal inclusion of piano samples throughout is a nice touch, and a perfect counterweight to the occasional overindulgence in wah-wah guitar soloing. Just as the duo did on the debut, they keep it all so drenched in mood that everything fits in perfectly; this comes off as both sample-heavy and entirely organic, a tenuous balance the duo strike with ease. Somehow, the pages-long ingredient list for this album comes together to form an entirely convincing whole. If one buys into Hall and Amos’s central conceit (there are undoubtedly many who will mistakenly take this as gimmickry), the experience is rewarding in just about every way.
A paradox arises from Lilacs & Champagne’s honing in on a hyper-specific sound, however. While in my review of the debut I hoped that the project wouldn’t be cast aside as an interesting one-off, at the same time Danish & Blue is demonstrative of the fact that this approach might face some entropic losses if it is to be pursued in this way in future efforts. Part of what made Lilacs & Champagne so powerful a statement of intent was how unique it was, and while there is enough tinkering that makes Danish & Blue stand on its own merits, it’s also hard to imagine where it is Hall and Amos could go from here, especially considering that they took only a year to follow up their first LP. Then again, this could just be cynicism; after all, these two have proven themselves more than apt at making a style that is genuinely all their own. Who can really say what the future holds for them? Simply put, working in a genre of one poses all sorts of risks for musicians; for now, at least, Lilacs & Champagne continues to impress in a way few of its peers are able to.
// Notes from the Road
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