Be fair: did you expect Marc Bianchi's follow up to his Her Space Holiday breakthrough The Young Machines, remixed earlier this year in its entirety, to be sunshine and smiles from crackle'n'fuzz start to glitch-stuttering finish? Of course not. And you'd be right - the very first word the man whispers is "misery".
The formula that's seen Bianchi turn Her Space Holiday from a bedroom hobby to a professional occupation hasn't changed particularly - the beats remain primitive and the occasional flourishes of swooning strings are splendidly executed, and the lyrics are, again, absolutely key to The Past Presents The Future's appeal. Whether it's the throbbing bass pulse of 'Missed Medicine' or the more orchestral 'The Weight Of The World' - somewhere near the fairy tale soundscapes perfected by The Avalanches - Bianchi's worldview is forever skewed by what's gone awry rather than what opportunity lies around the bend. The title's appropriate in so much as this is_ Bianchi's future but it's still ruled by the exploits of his past. That said, exciting possibilities do make themselves apparent, as _'You And Me' tells of a lust-or-love (or to simply resist?) encounter rather than despairing defeat: "If you take me home tonight, I know that we will kiss..."
If Bianchi's lyrics lack the bite of the likes of Conor Oberst and John Congleton, it's due to his (trademark) lazy delivery rather than his way with words; also, the listener can find themself pushed to truly concentrate on what's being said, as the accompanying music sometimes steers itself too close to the frustratingly derivative for prolonged attention to be maintained. Breaks in the basic beats comprise affecting highlights: the ambience of 'A Small Setback To A Great Comeback' falls mid-record, effectively halving the album experience but also delivering the most understated slice of compositional beauty The Past... has to offer. That an interlude can equal an album standout should tell you something about the two-headed nature of this particular beast: it'll either entrance or expell its audience.
A lyrical positive is that Bianchi plays up to his audience's preconceptions. 'Missed Medicine' opens with the killer couplet, "I've figured out the key to short-term success, just tell everyone that you're clinically depressed". In the flesh Bianchi is a man outwardly untroubled by such conditions, yet his more hardcore followers take his every breath as gospel. With this in mind, it's refreshing to hear him almost trivialise the very thing that he's become known for, to hear him take a pot shot at his own standard approach angles. The effect is akin to Oberst coming out and saying, "You know, I've had a steady girl for the last ten years and I'm actually a football-loving jock." Maybe.
It's worthwhile to note, whatever you read into the above, that The Past... is a strong Her Space Holiday release, building upon the foundations already laid to erect similar constructions of solid metal and brittle bone. It's far from a poor record - the sole problem is that a number of songs do blur together, forming more of an aural whitewash than the technicolour trip some had predicted. It's this aspect alone that renders The Past... not quite the essential release it might've been.
6Mike Diver's Score