[1 May 2013]
BVDub’s All is Forgiven is a rare occurrence. It’s a long form record in the autonomic or ambient music scene—a scene which tends more toward sporadic releases of singles and short form EPs. Its appeal lies in deep and murky melodies. It wallows in layers upon layers of atmospheric textures but manages to avoid sounding overly dramatic or self indulgent by keeping a large focus on rhythms born out of an appreciation for dub and drum ‘n bass.
It’s a beautiful record, delivered in just three movements but managing to add up to almost 78 minutes nonetheless. Strictly speaking there are sections within each movement that probably could have been split into smaller unique tracks, but there’s no question that each of the three sections have their own unique themes.
“All is Forgiven” is a sprawling, journey which seems to explore sadness and regret. It opens with repeating, brooding chords and though they set the tone for something that could go in a very melodramatic direction, a quick percussive shuffle rises up to set a different pace—you’re not getting off the hook just yet. What could have been dismissed as emotionally manipulative is suddenly resolved to seriousness. Choirs of pitched-down vocals cry and moan as if pleading for your sympathies. They tell their story in an impossible number of unique and skillfully woven pleas of what might be “talk to me”. It’s difficult to pin down because the mix is so masterful that all of the various voices work together without ever sounding cacophonous. Where some artists might simply have exploited this effect to rise to an inevitable crescendo of noise before predictably fading off, BVDub just keeps shifting and floating things around. His is a vision of a haunted chill out room where the only dancers are shadows with indiscernible sources.
At around the halfway mark of the first movement there are no synths or percussion just the subtle and gentle serenade of piano keys and a bass line that is almost inaudible. Eventually the filtered stabs, that fans of electronic music or drum ‘n bass in particular will appreciate, make an appearance amid a warped break beat. What makes this different than just another drum ‘n bass or breaks record though is how these parts are treated. It’s clear from the start that though they form a foundation that helps give the work context, they’re secondary at best. They’re beside the point. This is all mood music—it’s got nothing to do with the dance floor. If there is a groove to be found here, it probably arose by accident like a rivulet of rain finding it’s way along a smooth surface. It’s that sort of subtlety which will compel you through to the last note.
There’s a lot about this record that reminded me of Holy Other’s Held or Burial’s Untrue. It could be said that the three records occupy a similar universe—the post-party walk home through a dark alley in the rain. These artists revel in the swirl that the bass leaves in your ears hours after the amps have been packed away and you’re recovering from the pounding of a three-hour set. That’s the time when you can slip into “Today He Felt Life” like a warm blanket. The contrast of the opening piano’s simplicity against the distant fanfare echoing from some place lost and out of reach will offer the comfort of hope or the pang of loss depending on your personal circumstances. A muted kick drum pounds out an abstract rhythm and we’re surprised by a clearer, if not yet comprehensible soul vocal track. Once again just when you think you’ve grasped the pattern, another percussion line enters the mix and fits far too perfectly despite its urgent tempo. How can a track sound so fast and so slow at the same time?
Another aspect of this record I loved was the seamlessness within the context of each track. It could easily be chalked up to the prowess of a DJ’s experience. Their skill lies in patiently blending rather than hard cuts. The various voices and parts on these tracks seem to rise and swell and then disappear before you know they’re gone being replaced by something equally as easy on the ears.
By the time I got to “Peonies Fall For Kings”, I had already decided this would go on my list of contenders for one of the best records of 2013. This one is a pop song played from a locked room at the end of the hallway. The only thing coming through clearly is a beautiful piano you might be playing in time yourself. Once again this contrast of presence and distance gives the whole thing a haunting complexity. Few records manage to model emotion quite so accurately as Brock Van Wey has done here.
When the beat finally drops on the last track it’s a little more jarring than we’ve been conditioned to hear. The fact that he chooses a sort of early ‘90s pop-dance beat doesn’t seem to work well. It’s a disappointing development, but there is hope in the fact that you know it won’t last forever. The album closes with the latter half of the third movement lightening things up with an easy groove and and a brighter outlook. By the time you’re thrust back into the moody depths of keys, chords and most wonderful soulful vocals on the record so far—all is forgiven.