Photo courtesy of Big Dada Records

Visionist: Value

Visionist looks to further understand himself as an artist on deep, complex album full of contrast.
Big Dada / Ninja Tune

Visionist’s (a.k.a. experimental composer and producer, Louis Carnell) 2015
Safe album was an unflinching and profoundly personal chronicle of his issues with anxiety and mental health.

It was a dark, complex album with Carnell weaving in barbed, pointed beats and harsh cacophonous noises. It reveled in obscuring recognizable sounds and, while never an easy listen, could be savored for its willingness to take risks. It saw an artist with a clear, singular vision prepared to lacerate the divide between techno, grime, and dubstep.

New album Visions builds on the sound of his previous work. Visionist is keen to use his work to continue to analyze and evaluate himself through the process of making music. To the end, the music on Value sees him artfully balancing the contrasting feelings of strength and vulnerability. Often, the music is almost unbearably intense, even traumatic but that is adroitly counterbalanced by beautiful ambient passages as if mirroring his conflicting emotional state. In that way, it feels like a very personal album. However, this is still a more outwardly looking album than Safe, as he also explores broader issues such as the meaning of self, of gender and our self-preservation.

The buzzing, insectile like beginning of “Self” jarringly opens the album before giving way to noises that spit and hiss like the gradual release of steam pressure. Swirls of ambient, swirling synths and jagged mechanical noises do battle before leading into “New Obsession”. Here, Visionist seemingly constructs a hip-hop style backing out of industrial machinery that whirs and cracks together. Coupled with the more ethereal synths, he creates an asphyxiating, almost nightmarish soundscape. Thankfully, “Homme” offers some respite, beginning with the bright, drip of keyboard and piano notes. Visionist incorporates Oriental sounding chords and instrumentation, creating the effect of feeling like stepping into the wondrous, expanse of a Japanese water garden. Suddenly, an intense flurry of synths breaches the calm before fading and being replaced by beautiful piano notes.

“Value” features noises and sounds that slam together like the deafening roar of shifting tectonic plates. Visionist again creates a scene of automated, mechanical chaos as more organic sounds clamor for room. It is this dilution of harsh, rasping industrial sounds with floaty chords and chiming notes that stops the whole thing becoming overwhelmingly intense. “Your Approval” is another refreshingly left-field move as it’s the closest the album has to a recognizable song. The multi-layered, discordant backing judiciously frames the sumptuous, smoky vocals from Nashville-based singer Rolynne. Her vocals are suitably tender and often heartbreakingly fragile as she sings lines such as, “Blue sky, the winds try to drown me / And they tell me that I’m not worthy.”

“No idols” features more automated, pounding beats that are again juxtaposed with organic piano notes. “Made in Hope” feels like more of a classical piece than techno with a gorgeously unhurried, sparse opening which sees Visionist wring tears from the piano. Notes echo and bounce, left to fly away before the whole thing becomes slightly more animated. The album initially continues in the same vein as if afraid to break the spell with the floaty and ethereal ambiance that opens “High Life”. However, Visionist is only too happy to rough the sound up with notes that grip and tighten as if doing battle with an enormous metal snake that gently constricts. It’s a stark example of how Visionist can magnify the pressures on the self in modern society through his manipulation of sound.

The album finishes with the echoing, glitchiness of “Exit(s)t”, with interlocking, ascending and descending keyboard riffs that fragment, splinter and then tumble. “Invanity” is an intense, head spinning, whirl of all-out glitchiness. After a calm start, Visionist creates a maelstrom of aural havoc like walking into an amusement arcade as all the machines malfunction at the same time.

Value is not an easy album to listen to and nor should it be. It is a deep and involving work with Visionist exploring his self-worth as an artist and how the process of making music can both give him strength and leave him vulnerable. A bold, ambitious album that once again finds Visionist truly worthy of his forward-thinking moniker.

RATING 7 / 10