The Boats: Words Are Something Else
Home Normal

Christopher Hipgrave: Days
Home Normal

After bolting from the gate with albums by Library Tapes and Celer and now outings by Christopher Hipgrave and The Boats, Home Normal has established itself in record time as a label of distinction, and the latest pair of releases only enhances that reputation. The relatively unknown Hipgrave impresses with forty-four minutes of multi-hued microsound material that transcribes the transitions from early morning to day's end, while The Boats' release finds the group moving with a great deal more wind in its sails than usual.

It's easy to get swept up by Christopher Hipgrave's Day when the titles of its seven pieces reference the stages of a typical day and some of the perceptual and experiential details that might go along with it. A composer, sound designer, and software programmer from England, Hipgrave's obviously got the requisite technical skills to shape digital materials into engrossing and detail-packed set-pieces. Filled with glassy tones that glisten and sparkle, a representative track such as “Slow Sun” is bucolic and soothing, while tones and textures in other tracks cohere into shimmering masses punctuated by stuttering pops and crackles. In “Early Morning,” the multitudinous murmur of insects arises with a new day's attendant swell of natural ambiance. Rippling streams of static textures, soft percussive glitches, and organ-like tones in “Motionless” blend into a gentle, dream-like flow that proves transfixing; a rather more industrial quality characterizes “Drift” by comparison, when emissions exhale over a meandering array of carousel tones. Suggestive of hikers returning home after a long day's exploration, a soft gallop animates the hyperactive pop and sparkle of “Dusk,” after which “Traveling Home” brings the album to a becalmed yet still resplendent close. Day hardly teems with tumult and violence but instead radiates calm and peacefulness—Hipgrave's day, in short, is a lovely one suffused with tranquility, harmony, and lightness of spirit.

In place of The Boats' usual somnolent drift, Words Are Something Else finds co-captains Craig Tattersall and Andrew Hargreaves setting off on a spirited sojourn and taking in a variety of scenery along the way. That energized change of heart is evident from the outset when “I Don't Know What I'm Gonna Do…..” inaugurates the forty-minute collection with a one-minute slice of driving dub-techno (the answer coming at album's end with the re-titled reprise “…..But I'm Gonna Do Something”) and “Maps of Nowhere” follows it with an acid techno workout. True to form, The Boats' techno isn't techno of the generic sort but, as the seductive swoon of “Service Before Self” demonstrates, a submersive and deep one bathed in atmospheric textures, and the duo's customary irreverence likewise remains in place, as a song title such as “This Song Has Been Intentionally Left Blank,” makes clear. Second mate Chris Stewart contributes vocals to three songs, with a vocoder-like treatment in “This Song Has Been Intentionally Left Blank” dehumanizing his voice in a way that'll please or annoy depending on one's appetite for vocal distortion. The subsequent “Raindrops (Second)” appeals more for presenting his voice more naturally, though here too a few moments of distortion creep in; nevertheless, the track's notable for the ear-catching way it manages to reconcile the languorous vocal line with the locomotive charge of the techno underpinning. Elsewhere, “Keep Off The Boats” twists the group's sound into a bass-heavy acid-funk, while “I Hope You Get Well Soon, I Hope You Get Well Tomorrow” presents four minutes of acidy techno boogie ripe for the dance floor—and when was the last time anyone said that about The Boats?

September 2009