The music of Lex Records six-piece Subtle is going to be perceived in certain lights because of its origins. Most (or some) will have found the prior work of its creators; the dazed organic-electronic sprawl of cLOUDDEAD and the self-conscious broken hip-hop bangers of themselves. Found it good or bad – of course – and drawn certain conclusions on this without ever listening. So we have to cut in.
And note that most (or some – and this means me, too) would be wrong in assuming continuance. So let us tick some boxes. Hip-hop? That’s a no, right there. A New White contains (some) drum programming, but then, so do Big Black records. Electronica? No. While the record shares an aesthetic with Fennesz and co. in its method of reinterpretation of live instrumentation, Fennesz is a micro-manager, an obsessive creator of moving miniatures. Subtle run their guitar, cello and key derived melodies down a sampler and return with bold, drum-driven pop songs. Pop’s the box that this record ticks in warm blood whilst brushing past innumerable touch stones.
Evidence? Whereas in the past vocalist doseone’s voice and words have set teeth on edge, here his contributions are more musical; his hummed twittering a melodic constant in a river of mutating structures (but there are structures!) and ideas – his ‘meanings’ far from evident. And beneath him are neither beats constructed from drills nor the sounds of a looped snare run through a series of mutating effects but pop music: in the accessible sense of the washed out ebb and flow of ‘F.K.O.’, in the 'fuck, let’s dance!' sense of ‘i heart l.a.’ and in the languorous desire of ‘red white and blonde’ – the last featuring a muttered multi-tracked repetition of the title that sounds so expressive of regret or nostalgia – who knows – call it feeling, that it’s impossible not to get caught up in its wake.
To sound a more measured note, the effect of running so many live instruments through what remains a conventional hip-hop production format (i.e. producer jel with Akai) leaves the record a textured thing - providing much provision for return visits. And just because the music is so gorgeous is no ground to dismiss its creators’ intentions. Aforementioned lead single 'F.K.O.' has a chorus based around the not-so-subtle refrain "fuck Kelly Osbourne", chanted so softly the words just seem alluring, or at least more so than their spurious star.
This marriage of accessible veneer and abrasive core is a bit of a contextual head-whirl, but it’s this sort of touch that encourages us to miss the dull, guitar-based drone of ‘song meat’ – an unavoidable but lone misstep - and the sort of touch to let us love this record rather than like it or - worse - dub it sort of interesting, a bid for the coffee bar backing-track. No, this is an audacious experimental pop record that’ll beguile more than confuse, and can confuse like the most beguiling records can.
9Daniel Hayward's Score