Writer’s block can be crippling. For writers and musicians it’s that one dreaded fear where, however much you try, however much you force it, nothing worthwhile comes out. The trick is how you deal with it. You can carry on regardless and write yourself out of the slump, or you can take yourself away to return later. In extreme cases, you can let it eat you up, become more and more creatively debilitated. For Nathan Fake, extensive touring and events in his personal life conspired to leave Fake unable to write any music at all for almost three years. Thankfully, he managed to pull himself out of the creative mire, and this is the result. A dazzling, glistening leftfield electronic album that signals something of a rebirth for the artist. It’s as if he has fallen back in love with music all over again.
Since arriving on the scene with his debut Drowning in a Sea of Love in 2005, it has become increasingly clear that Fake is an artist unafraid to experiment. That album was full of post-techno flourishes and glitchy, ethereal atmospherics. His last album, Steam Days released all the way back in 2012 was another significant step forward. Fake seemed to break the shackles of all that he had tried before and taken his music somewhere new, somewhere fresh. While not always completely successful, it showed an artist with heart who wanted the listener to experience an emotional connection with his music. Providence feels like a further step up. It feels more confident and self-assured despite its troubled gestation as he refuses to be pinned down by structure or expectation.
The album is book-ended by two pieces entitled “Feelings 1” and “Feelings 2”. Both are wondrous, twinkling tracks full of airy synths with “Feelings 1” inviting the listener to settle down and make themselves comfortable for the journey ahead. It’s a mellow and smooth opening before the skittering percussion and full, pulsing synths of “Providence” heralds something a little more animated. The restless, agitated beats and bold swaths of high pitched sounds suggest an artist suddenly brimming with ideas after finding the well dry for so long. Fake’s grapple with writer’s block is directly addressed on “HoursDaysMonthsSeasons” which is a more filmic piece that echoes the sophisticated, cinematic work of Kuedo. The title refers to the passing of time as Fake struggled to write anything at all. It’s a moody, atmospheric track that demonstrates perfectly how Fake has tried to reinterpret his sound on this record and push it in unfamiliar directions.
The 12 “ release that preceded the album, “DEGREELESSNESS”, is a spectacular high point on the album. Riding a delayed drum beat which treads the line between techno and experimental hip-hop, Fake’s sound collides with the grimier, distorted vocals of Purient. His shadowy vocals add a darker sense of drama to the song, taking it somewhere altogether darker and captivating. A low, forlorn, incessant thrum speeds up and slows down like the heartbeat of someone alone in the dark, disturbed by innocuous shapes and sounds.
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Elsewhere, “The Equator” froths with bubbling synths that squelch before being skewered by heavily processed shards of sound. “Small City Lights” is more automated and mechanical. Driven by a continual, industrial whir, Fake warps and elongates simple guitar notes. “Radio Spirit World” is a funereal, dirge that is lifted by incandescent, airy synths. The shift from the somber mood to a more positive one is handled beautifully. “CONNECTIVITY” is a higher tempo track that increases the pace as Fake dynamically straddles the divide between restraint and chaos. As with many of the tracks on here, it always threatens to spin off out of control but never quite does so.
The only other song to feature vocals, “RVK” sees Raphaelle Standell-Preston from Braids make an appearance but not as one would expect. Fake cleverly holds off from introducing her vocals until halfway through making her appearance all the more startling and unexpected. Here he takes the sound in a more hip-hop influenced direction with laconic beats and hollow, ringing, percussion. Standell-Preston’s vocals elevate the song to somewhere otherworldly coming across with the brooding sophistication of Julia Holter. To conclude proceedings, the aforementioned “Feelings 2” sees the album float free, as if finally able to break from its moorings.
Fake has managed to create a distinctive album that sounds little like what he has done before. In many respects, it sounds more flexible as it constantly evolves and shapeshifts. He doesn’t ever seem like he is trying to satisfy anyone other than himself as he uses music as therapy to finally escape from the travails of writer’s block. A hard battle to win but worth it as the album acts as a testament to the need to keep going until something magical comes out.
// Notes from the Road
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