[24 June 2008]
Pattern Is Movement are a perplexing prospect. Not only did the duo meet in their early teens as part of an evangelical Christian hip-hop troupe—hardly a commonplace source of indie talent—but it seems that with every diminishment of their ranks, the Philadelphians get stronger. Their debut release, The (Im)possibility of Longing, was the product of a five-strong line-up; All Together, their third, is born of only two core members, but is perhaps their finest.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising: the record melds together myriad styles, but ultimately has, like its makers, two central identities, one organic, the other drawing in elements of technology and modernity. Chris Ward’s industrious, unprocessed, and often tempestuous beats form the record’s framework, while extra layers of texture are added by various guest musicians bringing to the fore violins, brass, and guitar, but All Together is still grounded enough in keyboard stabs and hip-hop-style breakdowns to be labelled electronica.
Indeed, Pattern Is Movement’s unlikely foundations (the apparently comfortable union of Dr. Dre and Pentecostalism was a feature of both Ward’s and vocalist Andrew Thiboldeux’s youths) aren’t entirely without trace here. Though their polyrhythmic soundscapes might be a world away from the rap side of the deal, Thiboldeux’s swooning falsetto does often suggests Caribou kingpin Daniel Snaith exorcising his inner choirboy, while there’s also a sense of the genre-bridging akin to that of Why?. But if this suggests a heavy sense of the opaque, it shouldn’t distract from what truly makes All Together an enticing prospect: the melodic richness that it upholds throughout. Though the individual parts of All Together—the distinctive vocals, repetitive refrains, keyboard bleeps and jabs, laced with luscious strings and all held together by deconstructive beats—seem primed for a challenging listen, the end result is nothing of the sort.
Instead, Pattern’s music is gleefully fun at times, rivalling Pinback for sheer melodic exuberance even as it threatens wilful obscurity. Opener “Bird” switches to-and-fro between droning keyboards and sparkly twinkles, Thiboldeux’s vocals bordering all the while on the operatic, yet the song is contagious in both its energy and prettiness. “Right Away” is similarly double-edged, opening with a sense of brooding thunder that is periodically intercepted by the sunshine of Daniel Hart’s guesting violin and Thiboldeux’s keys, marching all the while to Ward’s head-nodding beat.
It’s this interplay between the many textures of Pattern’s music that makes All Together so captivating, and the uneducated would surely never guess the shrunken ranks of the band by listening alone. “Peach Trees” links together neat vocal harmonies and tip-toeing keyboard, but it’s the repeated violin excerpt that orchestrates proceedings. Guest musicians again come to the fore on “Sound of Your Voice”, where the insistent parping of trumpet induces an atmosphere of panic, before again Thiboldeux’s twinkling keys break the tension. Indeed, the interaction between All Together‘s instrumentation gives the impression of a larger outfit of seasoned musicians, all so well acquainted with each others’ strengths and weaknesses as to be entirely comfortable.
The record is accompanied by a set of photographs (not included with press copies, so no comment on them) each providing inspiration for an individual song. As nice a touch as that is, it could just as easily to tied to some specific environment or animation, such is the sense of life here. Each song is like a microcosmic journey, every one colourful and distinct. There’s the odd reference point here and there on All Together—there’s shades of Amnesiac-era Radiohead in the avant-pop atmosphere that pervades much of the album, while the more pastoral elements remind of Midlake at times—but Pattern Is Movement as a whole are utterly unique, something which is most definitely to their credit.