We, as music lovers, are obsessed with the classification and categorization of the music we love (and even the music we hate). We are genealogists and historians, tracing the roots that influence bands and picking out the obvious ripping-off that mediocre bands participate in. I write “music lovers” instead of “music critics” because critics aren’t the only ones who participate in this practice. Any new band must be asked who they sound like. Labels, in their press releases, rarely refrain from comparing and contrasting their new band to the history of the art. So it is with great pleasure that I compare Coloma to no one else.
It’s not that the elements here don’t appear in the works of other artists. But the combination of the elements, and the ways they are mixed, is astounding. Perhaps this uniqueness is best illustrated by Coloma’s past. The duo, comprised of Englishmen Alex Paulick and Rob Taylor (who currently live in Germany), won the Most Promising Act award at the Qwartz Electronic Music Awards a few years ago. This is certainly an impressive accomplishment, but it is even more impressive when you listen to Dovetail. The instrumentation is so organic and interesting that you’d think Coloma ignored their electronic past for lounge band swing and club grooves. Electronic splashes still remain (an industrial breakdown during “Motorway Stray” is even more shocking than it would be without the horns and piano prominent during the rest of the song), but most of the album is performed by real, live, human musicians.
Coloma haven’t abandoned their electronic roots. Instead, Paulick took the original recordings by the live musicians (double drums, piano, bass, organ, vibraphone, and three-piece horn section) and spliced them in the manner he saw fit. The result is a seamless album that sounds completely natural. You wouldn’t know that it was spliced if I hadn’t told you because it is so subtle. The remixing is not a lazy marketing ploy, as many remix albums are. It is an artistic ordering of musical events. So don’t call it a remix album. It doesn’t do Coloma justice.
After all that praise, you’re probably dying for me to tell you whom Coloma sound like. Refer back to the first paragraph if this desire should strike. What you will hear is a voice that croons. The melodies aren’t standard pop major scale runs. They are complex and unusual. The lyrics are often abstract, but their serious delivery allows them to appear much better than they would be as simple, recited verse poetry. The music is a whole different beast. Picture a time when horns were common on records (maybe during the soul heyday) and when a bass groove meant the world to the success of a single. Picture accomplished studio musicians occasionally straying from the songs’ simple outlines. Picture vibes and pianos recorded so expertly that they echo slightly, but never drown in their own reverb. Then, picture small electronic touches: synth strings here, a drum machine there. Picture an album in which you can’t discern whether the components are real or computer-generated. Often times, you won’t be able to tell, and you won’t care.
Coloma named their album Dovetail after the dovetail joint, which is the carpentry trade’s strongest. They’ve even included the joint as their cover art. You can think of this as a metaphor for their electronic roots. They still depend upon the strongest and sturdiest of their influences, even with this foray into traditional instrumentation. Regardless of their intentions, it works. And you and I are the benefactors of this mismatch made in heaven. Just don’t ruin it by tracing its roots. Let it be the beautiful bastard child that it is.
// Notes from the Road
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