We Know About the Need
panning genres is tricky work. While there’s a nice payoff to being able to give a voice your musical influences, it’s easy to become trapped in clichés. Your Pipettes and your neo-disco types have it easy. Groups like that are actually encouraged to play up the clichés, but we expect the moon of artists without a single iconic sound to draw upon. The essential lesson pop music has learned time and again is that an artist attempting any sort of musical alchemy has to choose harmonious and illuminating source material. Otherwise, the outcome is Frankenstein’s musical monster. Just look at late-90s rap-rock, and the mess that is metal-core.
One figure acutely aware of the need for delicate balance is Bracken’s Chris Adams. He’s been around for a while, his newest release We Know About The Need is his first bona-fide solo venture. Adams’ day job is actually handling vocal duties in the British electronic post-rockers Hood—a group that has spent the last ten years going further and further down the path of rock deconstructionism. In between their mid ‘90s genesis and 2005’s Outside Closer, they went from collegiate space rock into experimenting with electronic cut-and-paste aesthetics.
Adams must have been a driving factor in that shift, or at least happy with the changes, because on We Know, he covers a lot of the same ground. There’s a fair amount of Elephant 6-type bliss-pop on the record, strengthened by multitracked vocals that sound much like Will Cullen Hart’s work with the Circulatory System. There’s also more mixing and mashing of styles with a generally dubby feel, Prefuse-esque cutups, and some Middle Eastern inflected arrangements.
Adams’ catholic approach avoids the necessity of focusing on the dirty little words that he sneaks into his vocabulary every now and then, like “electro-acoustic” or “downtempo” or “world music.” Bits of music fitting those descriptors pepper the whole album; this isn’t exactly a hip-sounding record. But at his best, Adams blends every genre-specific sound in amongst some really nice little sonic applets, like his vocal work or the cut-and-paste acoustic guitar samples. “Heathens” and “Fight Or Flight” are almost-adjacent highlights (the six-second “Int” stands between them) featuring blissed-out vocals and guitar cut-ups.
With the impressive level of control, it’s understandable when it starts feeling like Adams is holding on a little too tightly. There are a couple of times when We Know gets into such an unbreakable lockstep of feedback and drone that it’s difficult to believe he can break it back into melodic territory. On the opening track, “Of Athroll Slains,” one beat continues on for the whole cut without resolution, with sing-songy vocals and standard-issue IDM glitches. Adams has made some disharmonious musical choices like these, for better or for worse, and it makes it more difficult understand what he’s saying about his source material. But if you listen carefully, his different voices settle into their normal timbres, and it finally becomes clear that he’s facilitating a sometimes unruly but always dynamic conversation between genres.