I’ve only been to England once in my life but the weather lived up to the stereotypes North Americans understand the English climate to be. I spent about four days in Brighton, and while it never rained heavily, the coastal town seemed to live under a constant sheet of gray with occasional bursts of sunshine. My brief day in London was much the same, as the city seemed to be blanketed in clouds. I would imagine that the weather in Bristol where David Edwards (aka Minotaur Shock) lives doesn’t deviate much from what I encountered, but he’ll be damned if it lets it dampen his spirits. His sophomore LP, Maritime, is a joyous, positively sun drenched blend of organic instruments and electronic twiddlings. Indeed, as the name suggests, the album feels as if it were crafted in a cabin overlooking a beach in the midst of a northeastern Canadian spring.
Most reviews you’ll probably read about this disc will haphazardly toss around the term “folktronica”. It’s a lazy categorization used to describe electric music with organic elements, and it assumes that an artist is primarily a knob turner, with any hint of musicianship coming in second. Listening to Maritime, Edwards’ ear for natural sounds becomes immediately apparent. These aren’t just some glitched out beats slapped onto a piano loop; instead they’re beautifully composed pieces that thoughtfully blend both worlds together. Clarinets, flute, strings, drums and guitars are all featured throughout the album, standing proudly alongside some nicely tweaked beats.
Thus, it’s not surprising the first instruments we hear on opening track “Muesli” are clarinets. (Unintentionally?) swiping a few notes from Louis Armstrong’s introduction on “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”, the track continues to build slowly adding shakers, bells, and finally accordion to what the listener soon discovers is an electronics free track. It’s a bold opening statement, but with it, Edwards shows particular savvy in constructing a song out of variously shaped organic components.
When the beats make their first appearance on the disc’s bouncy second track “(She’s In) Dry Dock Now”, Edwards’ influences become more immediately apparent. His stuttering, sputtering cut ups have been compared to Aphex Twin, but are more reminiscent of Prefuse 73, though with a much warmer feel. The synths that are liberally spread across Maritime are soaked in 1980’s sweat, lending a nostalgic—though thankfully not ironic—twist to the disc. The disc’s best tracks, are also its longest. Both running at around six minutes, “Hilly” and “Someboy Once Told Me It Existed But They Never Found It” are astonishing achievements, but it’s the latter that is Edward’s piece de resistance.
The track begins with one minute of astonishingly beautiful acoustic guitar blended with a haunted vocal sample that wouldn’t be out of placed on an alt-country disc. Then from out of nowhere comes Edwards’ tricked out video game bleats. Energized and propulsive, they carry the song, reaching a repeated crescendo with wonderfully swooping synths. However, it’s the final third that incorporates what sounds like a choral vocal sample that sends shivers up the spine. The track achieves a hymn-like quality before bowing out gracefully.
Yet, for all the finely structured songs I mentioned above, Maritime also has a handful of tunes that are unmemorable. They aren’t bad songs, and in passing are quite pleasant, but they fail to resonate once the CD is over. But what ultimately makes the disc enjoyable is Edwards’ balance of skill and accessibility. He is a very talented programmer, but it never comes at the expense at inviting the listener into its bright, Technicolor world that is worth every minute exploring.
// Notes from the Road
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