Afxjim – Blackout Music (Feral Media)

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Feral Media are up to number eight of ten releases in their POWWOW series of new music. This latest album is the work of Sydney’ Travis Baird, who splits his time between his band The Woods Themselves various work for the likes of El Mopa and Sounds Like Sunset.

Blackout Music sees him taking a solo jaunt into electro-acoustic post rock territory with a firm focus on melody and some delightful instrumentation. The CD has a fantastic sound to it, all warm tones, fingers on strings and a depth where you can make out a tambourine away in the distance with sampled voices appearing right in front of you.

‘Love For Juan’ weaves some tumbling Tortoise drums over more delicate percussion that sounds like children’ toys, gamelan and the like. The mix brings reverb and delay to the fore as synths swirl and dive through the rest of the music. It is impressive stuff, especially in the context of the blinded hype that was applied to the latest Decoder Ring album. Blackout Music is a much more rewarding listen.

The key to this album is the diversity. There is no slavish cloning of Mogwai or Tortoise. ‘Edgbaston’ is a creeping indie track, surprisingly straight down the line after the previous songs which are more in the mold of bands like Ukiyo-e.

Diversity alone won’ make a record work however: it’s the way Blackout Music is woven together which is critical, and that’s where the production skills of Baird and Tony Dupe come to the fore. They don’ allow indulgence to seep in – most songs are under four minutes. Nor do they rely on studio effects to cloud and soak the melodies. Bells chime and guitars creak with crystalline clarity and samples are used economically to highlight a passage rather than forming the idea the music is built around.

The ghost of Spiritualized hovers over the gospel tinged ‘Round Midnight’, giving it a human edge. In fact that “personal touch’ is ever present on Blackout Music, while ‘Success’ is like Arcade Fire dabbling in club music and getting it gloriously wrong.

There is something here for everyone then – touches of indie, lashes of post rock, experimental dabblings in electronica and some freak folk organic haziness to bring it all back down to earth. By combining these thing together so successfully this has to be one of the most engaging local releases for 2009.

Chris Familton

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