Album Review: bvdub – ‘A Careful Ecstasy’ / ‘At Night the City Becomes the Sea’

In the past, a musician who released six albums in a calendar year would have been considered remarkable. The trend in recent years has been different. Keeping up with the outputs of Bull of Heaven, Lil B or Merzbow is difficult for even the most dedicated of fans. In the opening couple of months of 2013, bvdub has presented the listener with two albums and has informed his fans on that a third album has already been mixed and mastered. With an output like this, the assumption to which most people jump to is that in speeding up release dates, the quality will inevitably suffer. I, for one, do not believe that this is the case.

The sea is the strongest image with which I associate the music of bvdub. This particular connotation is manifest in a number of ways. The most obvious way is in the titles of the tracks (“Washed Away In Your Waves” and indeed the album title At Night the City Becomes the Sea) and the album art, but the image extends beyond this. The way in which the songs are structured is very much in the style of layering, like waves on a beach, until a point of stormy climax is reached. Oftentimes, the tracks’ melodies behave like subtle undercurrents, barely penetrating the surface of the music.

It is this subtlety that makes the music so rewarding to return to. Ambient music is a genre in which it is difficult to carve a niche. half a songwriter’s arsenal, i.e. the lyrics and voice, are forbidden. bvdub’s attention to detail brings out the idiosyncrasies in his music and gives each of his tracks a distinct identity. Considering his output, it is remarkable, not only that everything is so intricate, but it is well produced to boot.

If I were to generalise his sound, bvdub writes soundtracks for coral reefs. The music envelops the listener and suggests light refracting through still waters. The synths ebb and flow accordingly, the vocals echo expansively. The percussion is distinct but unintrusive; it gives the music a sense of direction and purpose.

The first album, At Night the City Becomes the Sea, is the less ambient of the two. If forced to pigeonhole this record, it would fit with minimal effort into the genre of dub techno. The vocal samples interact with one another lovingly. This is the less emotive of the two records, but it has a greater sense of where it is going; I would certainly be impressed if I saw a DJ drop the album’s gorgeous highlight “Washed Away in Your Waves” into a live set.

That is not to say that to say that the album is without fault. At points it gives off the kind of unpleasant nu-age vibes, the kind of stuff you can imagine your mum doing yoga too. Some of the tracks transition awkwardly; for example,  the middle of “A Place to Call” is thrown wildly off kilter by the introduction of a cheap-sounding electronic drumbeat. At its best, it is dynamic and contemplative in equal measure. The music carries an exciting, universal feeling, particularly when the voices gradually build into cosmic choirs.

I prefer the second record, A Careful Ecstasy. This record is much more personal and thoughtful, it is the successor of 2012’s Serenity, falling under the sparsely populated tag of ‘autobiographical ambient’. This record takes its time more, no sounds or vocals are introduced too early and each of the five tracks (all but one of whom top 12 minutes) expand to reach their full potential. This record suggests at love that has been lost, but is reflected on not in a bitter, but in a measured way. The presentation of the melancholic vocals suggests that even in our tragedies there is beauty.

I tried at one point to work with this record on and was often distracted. The tracks held my attention, not by shouting, but by whispering and suggesting, it shows great maturity in an artist if they can say a lot by doing very little. In this case, the subtext of the music carries just as much importance as the music itself.

At this point, I trust that I have done enough to dispel the theory that in releasing frequently an artist compromises their quality. For those who haven’t heard of bvdub, which I imagine is a fair number, I urge you to go out and give his music a go.

Francis Ozanne

…Fran has been listening to Troum & All Sides – ‘Shutûn’


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