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Nathan Fake

Hard Islands

(Border Community; US: 18 May 2009; UK: 18 May 2009; Internet release date: 18 May 2009)

Review [26.May.2009]

Fake Is the New Real

A lot can change in three years, a fact made evident by former Norfolk bedroom producer Nathan Fake’s sophomore album. In 2003, the then-19-year-old Fake (his real name) caught the attention of circuit bender James Holden, who promptly released his debut “Outhouse” single as the second ever release on his trendsetting Border Community label. Three years later, Fake had gone from obscurity to having the likes of Michael Mayer and Apparat remixing his tunes, while his 2006 full-length debut record Drowning in a Sea of Love released to widespread critic praise (including an 8.4 from Pitchfork, no less).


His first few singles and EPs stuck quite dedicatedly to the progressive house genre, with the exception of a track or two, but his debut surprisingly contained pure shoegaze post-rocktronica with nods to Boards of Canada and M83. Fake did not play out live at the time, and the album reflected this. It was a complete home listening experience, amply rewarding repeat listenings in a chill environment. The emphasis was on the brain, not the feet.


Another three years later, bringing us up to 2009, things appear to have come full circle. Fake left the bedroom at some point and launched himself a successful deejay career. In turn, this has greatly influenced the sound of his second album (or first mini-album, depending on how you look at it) on Holden’s label, Hard Islands. The gauzy synths, digitally mauled guitars, and downtempo rhythms that defined Drowning have been pushed aside in lieu of dance floor-tested tweaks on steady 4/4 beats that explore the limitless possibilities of Ableton.


The bass kicks like a bull and pulses throughout the festivities, while Fake deftly applies all the twists and turns his otherwise simple synth melodies will support. Hard Islands is an album based more in obscured rhythmic non-variation, cheeky slights of hand that make the basic song structures appear to venture further than they actually do. Believe me, that is a lot harder to pull off than it sounds.


“Basic Mountain” exemplifies the technique. The track begins and continues on a four-note lead melody, fading out only in the final minute, and once the beat kicks in, it pretty much stays the course for the duration. Variation is delivered by the swapping of percussive loops, filter alterations on the lead, and the subtle addition of synth sounds that support the main melody. Yet, for something so simple, it sounds a lot shorter than its six-minute running time suggests.


“Castle Rising” is the record’s centerpiece. Stretching out to the nine-minute mark, it is similarly built from a steady, pounding 4/4 beat and a basic, albeit heavily layered melody, but Fake never stops bending everything at his fingertips. There is method in his madness, though, unlike the barrage of uncontrolled and unoriginal noise that is Girl Talk. When Fake glitches “Castle Rising”, it performs an essential task, executed with a uncanny precision to keep the tune fresh and the groove groovy.


Where Drowning in a Sea of Love evoked a peaceful drowning, Hard Islands does not evoke. It hits hard, tweaking until all who stand in its wake are titillated to the gooey brink of orgasm and beyond. It ain’t the kind of fluffy, funky, bouncy disco wank that has fueled the Ibiza economy for 20 years, nor is it the faux chug, ironic darkness that Deadmau5 and the like pimp over at the Ministry of Sound. Hard Islands is the nasty business that grabs a hold of your short and curlies and never lets go until your rocks are off. From the looks of it, three years from now, Nathan Fake will be melting peoples’ skulls from a space station.

Rating:

Compelled to words by music since 2004, Ranta's words have appeared in such esteemed publications as Exclaim!, Tiny Mix Tapes, CBC Music, and PopMatters. He also regularly votes for the Polaris Music Prize, Village Voice Pazz & Jop, Juno Awards, and in all local, provincial, and federal elections. Based in East Vancouver, he's been known to a rave and/or rant, cat whisper, play basketball, pessimistically root for the Canucks, and read far too many comment sections. He graduated with distinction from SFU in 2012, with a bachelor's degree in music.


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26 May 2009
Hard Islands is perplexing and sharp, but you're lying if you told your friends this is an "album".
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