Alias & Tarsier: Brookland/Oaklyn

Impressed by Alias's Muted? Thought Lillian, his outing with brother Ehren, was a 2005 highlight? Well, Brendon Whitney's latest, a bi-coastal collaboration with chanteuse Rona 'Tarsier' Rapadas (Healamonster & Tarsier), trumps both with ten cuts filled with honey-dew vocals and crisp beat-making. Situated 3000 miles apart, the two recorded their respective parts over twenty-one months without ever meeting, but distance was clearly a non-issue as the results suggest the work of kindred spirits. The sound is full and lush, with the creamy tones of Tarsier's singing couched in dramatic five-minute mini-symphonies of torchy trip-hop and boom-bap.

Many songs suggest a Björk influence, not only in the vocal style (the extremes of Ms. Gudmundsdottir's idiosyncratic style largely smoothed out) but the songwriting too (“Last Nail,” “Anon”); though such moves don't wholly surprise, given the collaborative nature of Brookland/Oaklyn, those keeping tabs on Alias's recent contributions to projects by Lali Puna and Styrofoam will already be familiar with his migration towards a more pop-oriented style. The slow-builder “Cub” establishes a peak level at the outset which the remainder of the album generally matches. After a scratchy drum machine pulse inaugurates the song, an elegant piano line and ethereal singing appear. Subtly entwined layers of panning vocals and melodica emerge, deepening the melancholy vibe, before the trademark punch of Alias's beats add a rougher edge. Following that auspicious start, glorious confections enhanced by winsome melodies appear (“Plane That Draws a White Line,” “Dr. C”) augmented by occasional dramatic (the glorious swoop of Tarsier's voice paired with Alias's hefty beat-making in “Rising Sun”) and downtempo episodes (the languorous coda “Ligaya”).

Whitney and Tarsier add contrasts throughout. Alias's wordsmithing at the center of “Last Nail” is entirely unlike Tarsier's dulcet style while Dose One's (Subtle, 13&God, Themselves) insanely rapid flow injects Anticon flavour into “Luck & Fear”; elsewhere, the deep moan of Kirsten McCord's cello graces the wide-screen shudders of “5 Year Eve.” Lyrical content spans an illegal immigrant's feelings of entrapment (“Picking the Same Lock”) to a child's unhindered passion for life (“Cub”) but, chances are, you'll be so enraptured by the songs' hypnotic character you'll only secondarily notice what Tarsier's singing about. Brookland/Oaklyn might be Alias's most accomplished project to date.

June 2006