Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: The Acid – Liminal

The chance meeting of Australian songwriter, Ry X, London-based producer Adam Freeland, who sports a…

 

The chance meeting of Australian songwriter, Ry X, London-based producer Adam Freeland, who sports a Grammy nomination for remixing Sarah Vaughan’s ‘Fever’, and American electronic veteran, Steve Nalepa, at a Los Angeles party in 2013 could have become any insignificant high-brow acquaintanceship. At the time, the three artists were each pursuing a course markedly different to the unexpected collaboration that birthed The Acid. Ry X was instigating a departure from his past efforts with Australian pop-stars and Freeland and Nalepa were set to begin production on an unknown and now abandoned project. Instead, the transcontinental trio became a genre-blending experiment in minimalistic soundscapes and noiseless aesthetic expression. While by name their debut LP suggests more to come from Ry X and his colleagues, Liminal has unshakeable quality of once-off creative genius: an album to be fixed in its uniqueness and never revisited. This is Liminal’s paradox. Although a successful capturing of sound and space’s timelessness, it asks too much of its listeners’ patience and leaves all but the most devoted bored and depressed by 50 minutes of distressing emptiness. 

“It can be a hard thing to strip something to its core. Musically, some people tend to be afraid of space, they want to put a lot of things in to hear it bigger and better,” comments Ry X on his musical approach. Thematic and aural comparisons between The Acid’s approach and the xx are unavoidable. Indeed, the Aussie captains The Acid like Jamie xx does Romy and Oliver, maintaing a noticeably suppressive control over their creative potential with an unrelenting view to stripping down. Nowhere is this more evident than on the unsettling quietus of ‘Veda’ and ‘Animal.’ Ry X’s synchronistic whispers flicker intermittently like a lone florescent light in an abandoned warehouse of deep bass shudders, with its surrounding darkness overshadowing sense, time and context. So too on ‘Ra’ and ‘Tumbling Lights’ does Freeland and Nalepa’s productive genius pull a veil over existence – an ominous barrier of sound between them and the outside world with its desires of ‘big and betterness.’ Like James Blake’s ‘The Welhelm Scream’ and Tremors, the recent release by Vienna-based SOHN, Liminal will place The Acid in ‘indie-alt-dream-RnB’ camp when in fact these signifiers give insufficient credit to their broader context: a search for real artistic freedom in a commercial music landscape polluted by  a deference to public demands. In music and methodology, The Acid endeavour to strip away the functionless and contemptible trimmings of popular music and expose sound in its purest form. High-production music videos for ‘Basic Instinct’ and ‘Fame’, which both feature movement theatre as a personification for the songs themselves, further evidence their ideals. 

In many ways Liminal represents for music that which the likes of minimalist behemoth, John Pawson, does for modern architecture; it is an ideal portrayal of the beauty of vacant space. However, this level of left-field electronic abstraction has its consequences, not least of which being a distancing from listeners who don’t quite buy the ‘less is more’ maxim. When inside Liminal’s individual rooms its emptiness inspires, disturbs and intrigues all at once, but when stepping back to view it as a structural whole, it is hard not to see it for what it truly is: simple nothing. The echoes on ‘Feed’ and repetitiveness of ‘Clean’ would be risky even on a more lively album, but with Liminal they justify listeners’ lost attention spans and confused boredom. 

It may be poetic that The Acid exist in a world which they so desperately seek to escape, a world that waits expectantly for the inevitably mind-numbing drop of ‘Turn Down For What’ and praises WIFI in busses so that Facebook and Twitter can distract from the ostensibly dull outside. Nevertheless, Liminal’s serene nothingness alongside more entertaining recent releases like Shabbazz Palaces’s Lese Majesty and the Brian Eno/Karl Hyde collaboration High Life is difficult to defend. It is unclear whether Liminal’s architects intend to resume their previous courses after this serendipitous gathering or whether we can expect permanence from The Acid. It would certainly be more fitting to Ry X, Freeland and Nalepa’s minimalist manifesto if Liminal were to stand alone as their only work, hanging in the endless space and time it has created. 

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