Félicia Atkinson: The Driver

Paris-born sound and visual artist Félicia Atkinson has the honour of being the first artist on Hibernate Recordings to have material issued in a twelve-inch vinyl format, a distinction that's in this case enhanced all the more by a gorgeous clear vinyl presentation. Atkinson, a current resident of Brussels, is devoted to the art of improvisation and has had her work appear on Spekk and Kaugummi, in addition to Hibernate (a future release for Home Normal is in the works too). She brings that same spirit of real-time creation to The Driver but with a novel conceptual twist: the recording was inspired by a four-month US trip she undertook in 2010, with Atkinson, not licensed to drive, chauffered by her boyfriend. The marvelous sights she witnessed as they made their way across the Pacific Northwest and along Route 101 from Portland to San Francisco—sequoia trees, sea lions, and ancient rocks among them—imprinted themselves so strongly, she felt compelled to revisit the experience in sonic form after returning to her attic bedroom in Brussels.

The album begins in a luminous, meditative space with reverb-soaked guitar fragments in “Half Blonde” carving out a slow and deliberate path, the peaceful effect akin to the experience of sleepy night-time drift under the open skies. Additional textures seep in, fleshing out the atmospheric terrain so that it becomes more evocative and crepuscular, and shuddering bass tones eventually emerge, expanding the music's vertical range. The crystalline twang of the guitars evokes the kind of never-ending expanses depicted in the opening minutes of Paris, Texas, and there's likewise some subtle connection between Atkinson's oft-spooky material and the ghostly soundtrack Ry Cooder contributed to Wenders' film. While the flip side perpetuates the first side's haunted character, the second half is, if anything, even more phantom-like. Spirits seem to drift in slow-motion, and the cavernous echo of other-worldly voices emerges as accompaniment to such unearthly goings-on. Atkinson introduces a tangible human presence during the second half of the closing side by adding echo-drenched murmurs, Atkinson herself responsible for the title track's entranced vocal effects. Admittedly familiarity with the recording's background helps solidify associations between the music and the American landscape, but even so there's also no denying that The Driver possesses an evocative power that can't help but induce mental scene-paintings of broad expanses and panoramic vistas to form.

June 2011