Rubens: Carnivalesque

Though Rubens' Carnivalesque doesn't rewrite the melodic-IDM template, what distinguishes the Scottish duo's (Glasgow-based Mark Flanagan and Ayrshire-based Gordon MacDermid) debut album is its infectious spirit and robust attack. As exemplified by the opener “Vertical Hold,” Rubens specializes in vibrant melodic electronic music that seamlessly blends acoustic and electronic sounds into a lush, enveloping whole. While the genre's requisite glittering melodies and synth billows are present and accounted for, beats never sleepily loop on the disc's ten pieces but more often than not rampage with determination and purpose. Many tracks—“Cayla's Third” for example—benefit in particular from this live drumming feel. Even so, the sunny mood is strategically offset by some ponderous moments: “Giraffe” adopts a rather somber and reflective mien, “Blue Belles Burn Slowly” is similarly overcast in mood, and a beatless reverie, “After Now Is Next,” ends the album gracefully.

It's the album's longest pieces that show Rubens' talents in their strongest light, however. The striking “Ferris Wheel” is a deeply emotive set-piece which escalates rapidly into a pulsating epic whose shining surfaces aren't so bright that they completely conceal the melancholic heart beating at the song's center. Over ten minutes, Rubens incrementally builds the song's base melodies into a dense, euphoric multitude of synthetic bliss. The slow-burning “Winter Broth” is similarly epic and wide-screen in feel as it percolates rambunctiously with fierce resolve. Like “Ferris Wheel,” “Winter Broth” swells dramatically over the course of its eight-minute unfurl.

May 2007