Fleeting Joy is a dark record, but not a tiresome one. Even in its most muted, desperate moments, it feels eerily familiar.
Its success lies in its balance of rhythmic focus with softly glowing swathes of ambient wash. The latter are heavily digital and palpably emotive, sometimes exhaustingly so. Some (‘Elysium’) play out as evocative vignettes – potent, minor key suspensions a bit like those found on the last Actress record. The others are so delicate and desperate that they barely register. At their most withdrawn (‘Blood-Stained Fields’), they feel like the aural by-product of digital saturation – the sludgy dross seeping from between the seams of a streaming video site or inanely spewing social media feed, or the full-sensory tinnitus that settles after weeks playing a post-apocalyptic shooter. They fit the supreme abjection that days lost in that fizzing abyss impose on a person. When you emerge from such a stint, every real thing you process feels filtered through a kind of perceptive static – dimmed, blurred. Numbed to the detail of the real world, all input becomes muted digital texture, and you want to hold it at arms length.
The record begins so quietly as to almost be absent. ‘Unravel’ opens with a single viscous synth pad and the meditative plod of a processed dial tone, while a distant, sandy hiss ebbs and flows. ‘The metamorphosis’ is laced with a muted, chiming melody, spinning slowly off key, like some distant, twisted mobile. Its ominous drone is punctured with menacing whispers pitched too low to comprehend. They orbit the space between your ears, answering each other as if in ritual call and response, until silenced by a coruscating rift of synth.
In contrast, much of the beat oriented material feels oddly celebratory, in spite of the resiliently stygian mood that unites the record. The off-key vocal samples and brooding drones that spool forth over po-faced beats belie a wary optimism. ‘Tomorrow’ is the best example of this. Its rhythm track is tweaked to sound deliberately flat, like it was ripped to and from a lossy format too many times, but it’s difficult to resist nodding your head to its clipped meter. The woozy melancholy of the portamento synth that laces the track’s upper register is keenly bittersweet.
‘Fire Walk With Me’ is the only track that breaks from the stricture set by rest of the record. Littered with dramatic vocal samples, its quietly snarling bass and stately digi-tympani lend filmic menace and melodrama, while the plastic horns, strings and the fumbling twang of an electric guitar invite allusions to Ennio Morricone or, appropriately, Angelo Badalamenti. It’s evocative in a particularly Lynchian way, but given the context of the surrounding pieces, it feels a little like a dry joke – not an unwelcome move on a record as bleak as this.
Fleeting Joy closes in keeping with its underlying mood: ‘Fade Away’ opens with quiet processed traffic noise that billows into a noxious, drifting synthscape. It recalls the plangent noir passages that litter the Blade Runner soundtrack, but feels resigned to the modern spaces it evokes – both shaken by the magnitude and coldness of its surroundings and humbled by the context they provide.
After a few listens, it begins to feel like a homage to the errant beauty that sometimes arises from urban abjection – to the ‘skippy girls’ clumsily painted on a corrugated iron fence, or to the weed leaf that grows unexpectedly from the cracks in the concrete outside your house.
Label: Drug Arts
Release Date: May 2012
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