flica: Sub:Side

It's been eleven years since Euseng Seto initiated his flica project. The Kuala Lumpur-based producer's debut Windwane & Window caught the attention of listeners for its nuanced fusion of acoustic and electronic elements, after which Akira Kosemura's Schole came calling to issue over the course of subsequent years the flica sets Nocturnal, Telepathy Dreams, and Weekendary. His fifth full-length now picks up where its predecessor left off in its incorporation of bass playing by Kent Lee. It's not a minor detail: the bassist's contributions shift the flica focus away from ambient-electronica in its established sense to a richer zone where hints of rhythmic post-rock emerge within Seto's multi-layered ambient design.

There's a bit of an early Morr Music or Múm vibe to the opening “Listener” (and later tracks, too, “336 Hours” among them), with its pitter-pattering percussion calling to mind the Icelandic group's lo-fi sound. Even at this early stage of the forty-minute release, it's clear that labeling Sub:Side ambient isn't adequate; instead, Seto animates the track with a rhythmic insistence that's not typically associated with ambient per se. That impression's reinforced when “Moor” and “Waver” thread chiming clusters of electric piano, synthesizer, and other fluttering sounds in amongst charging 4/4 pulses, the muscular heft of the latter bolstered by Lee's presence. When his bass figures prominently within an arrangement, flica's world expands noticeably, the addition ostensibly turning flica from a one-person production project into something that feels more group-like. The closing “Nephilim” brings one final surprise when the bassist solos in a manner that lends the downtempo track a surprisingly blues-based feel.

While it would be stretching it too far to liken flica to Tortoise, some of the ten pieces (“Wednesday” a good example) exude a flavour reminiscent of the Chicago outfit, so much so that it wouldn't be hard to imagine the drumming of John Herndon and John McEntire used in place of the percussive details within the arrangement. All that being said, long-time flica admirers needn't worry that Seto's forsaken his ambient side; the strings-sweetened sparkle of “Aire,” a reverie so rich in detail and atmosphere it feels like a single-track embodiment of the flica aesthetic, makes it abundantly clear that that dimension remains firmly in place.

Brief mention should be made of the visual presentation, with Schole again distinguishing itself on that front in the physical release. Though it's not apparent from a digital display of the cover, the contrast between the glossy type on the front and back sleeves and the matte finish of the abstract painting on which the text is surprinted makes for a design that's both subtle and tasteful, much like Seto's musical material. It's merely one more example of the refined design aesthetic Schole has brought to its products throughout its distinguished tenure.

March 2018