There’s a decidedly cinematic quality to the debut release by the duo behind the oddly-named, frustratingly punctuation-less Beyond the Wizards Sleeve. The Soft Bounce begins with a gradual synth swell that crescendos into a wordless vocal that becomes swept away by an undercurrent of propulsive electronic drums and a throbbing bass. In this, “Delicious Light”, the aforementioned opening track, serves as something of a stylistic mission statement and introduction of what is to come over the ensuing 45 odd minutes. And what an impressive opening statement The Soft Bounce proves to be. Incorporating elements of rock, EDM, sound collage, psychedelia, and ambient minimalism, the album feels and sounds unlike most anything else released in 2016.
From there, it’s a thrillingly unpredictable aural adventure that manages to bend time and space into a sometimes disorienting, always satisfying distillation of pop music filtered through an omnivorous lens bent on refracting the expected beyond recognition while still remaining accessible. Listeners across the spectrum will likely find at least one moment of pure bliss to tap into, eventually drawn in to the rest of the album by its impeccable execution and seamless integration of sounds, styles and ideas into a concrete, revelatory whole.
The unsettlingly close harmony of “Iron Age” sounds like Beck circa-Odelay (“New Pollution”, to be exact) as interpreted by Tame Impala, pre-synths. It’s a strangely effective amalgamation and juxtaposition of familiar sounds shaped into something beyond these base points of reference. To be sure, Beyond the Wizards Sleeve is well aware of its influences, stylistic and otherwise, grafting whole swaths of disparate decades to one another to create a unique sound wholly their own.
Given their penchant for collaboration and carefully curated genre-hopping, it’s no surprise that the core duo behind Beyond the Wizards Sleeve has spent a good deal of the last decade remixing and producing a who’s-who of British and continental indie rock ranging from Peter Bjorn and John to Franz Ferdinand to the Chemical Brothers (a clear stylistic touchstone in terms of their swirling mix of pop and EDM). For Erol Alkan and Richard Norris, pop and indeed music in general is little more than an endless series of sounds waiting to be mixed, matched and mashed into something new and different. The gorgeous “Door to Tomorrow” marries a martial snare with lush soft-psych vocals and a post-“Eleanor Rigby” chamber orchestra to create something that sounds wholly out of time, untethered from the confines of a specific style or era.
“Black Crow” offers Zero 7’s trip-hop filtered through a swirling neo-psychedelic kaleidoscope that expands and contracts as though a living, breathing entity unto itself. It’s one of many instances wherein they combine a recognized aesthetic belonging to a very particular place and time and scramble any and all preconceived notions of what to expect in order to produce an end result that transcends mere genre pastiche to become a larger, pop-symphonic homage.
On the title track, they forego any pretense of immediacy in favor of a heavily percussive-based sound that resolves into a haunting vocal and long, drawn-out reverbed guitar chords that blanket the furiously propulsive drums. Conversely, “Finally, First” wastes little time building a sort of quiet majesty, layer upon layer, that subsequently explodes into all out psychedelic euphoria following a brief, soothing spoken word interlude. Similarly, the weirdly tripped-out “Third Mynd” takes all the requisite psychedelic tropes, wraps them in an electronic sheen and mixes it all together with an extended spoken word narrative that plays with the basic tenants of perception. It’s a heady three-and-a-half minutes and a fine way to close the album, leaving the listener wanting more.
Only “Tomorrow, Forever”, an extended, ambient meditation that serves as an instrumental interlude, lacks the focus displayed elsewhere on the album. Yet it still manages to feel of a piece with the album as a whole, offering a brief respite from the EDM-psych (or is it psych-EDM?) of the rest of the album. Regardless, it’s yet another instance of the blissed-out, sonically omnivorous approach Beyond the Wizards Sleeve have to their craft. The Soft Bounce may not be the best album of the year, but it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable listens to come along within these first seven months. And with its lack of date-stamping, it’s surely one to which we can return time and again without the slightest whiff of nostalgia for 2016, 1996 or 1966.