Xela: Tangled Wool
City Centre Offices

Even though he's a mere twenty-three years old, John Twells (aka Xela) is no ingénue, having released last year's acclaimed For Frosty Mornings… on Neo Ouija as well as Where We're From The Birds Sing A Pretty Song, an equally impressive collaborative outing with Gabriel Morley issued under the name Yasume. Following upon that City Centre Offices release, Twells returns with Tangled Wool, seemingly intent upon wresting the folktronica crown from Greg Davis and Kieran Hebden. Don't be turned away by the twee song titles, as this is as perfect an example of melodic folktronica as one might hope to find, plus it's a perfect length too, admirably succinct at eight tracks and forty minutes. One thing it's not, however, is Rounds II as it largely eschews the propulsive beats one finds on Four Tet's 2003 release. Instead, Twells creates sublime pastoral oases that are rooted in the shimmer of his acoustic guitar.

“Softness Of Senses” is a stunning opener, at once reverberant, anthemic, and blissful, awash in shimmering, bucolic splendor. “Smiles and Bridges” follows, and it's as satisfying, building euphorically with layers of acoustic guitars and chiming synths. In contrast to their uplifting auras, “You Are In The Stars” is a moodier, mournful piece with crunchy beats, while “Through Crimson Clouds” with its laconic beats is the most uptempo piece here. Obviously, the prevailing mood is one of delicacy, the music teeming with multi-layered guitars, hazy atmospheres, and sparkling melodies that chime and soar. Twells even adds a vocal to the heavenly “Drawing Pictures Of Girls” but, in keeping with the overall style, it's a wordless sigh that, along with the oboe sounds, becomes an irresistible hook.

With Tangled Wool, City Centre Offices reaffirms its stature as one of the pre-eminent electronica labels. Home to artists like Ulrich Schnauss, Dictaphone, Boy Robot, Static, Caney and Joory, Dub Tractor, and I'm Not A Gun, the label consistently produces impeccable music, Tangled Wool merely the latest proof of that dictum. It's a reverie-inducing album that's unfashionably free of irony, but perhaps that's all the more reason to embrace it and savor its delicate, paradisiacal qualities.

March 2004