So, here we are then. Benji Vaughan ditches Prometheus and de-orbits Younger Brother for a solo album which, apparently, represents what he really wanted to release and to sound like all along.
It’s an album with a lot of different styles, which is both a blessing and a curse. Even Tundra will challenge you; I should know because it’s been several weeks of listening that’s led to this review (including, it should probably be said, chaseup emails that have almost been on a par with Analog Pussy in 2003, which ended badly. I mean hilariously.)
Ursa Major gets things under way, and it sounds a little like something from the start of A Flock Of Bleeps, that eventually unfurls into something with a kick drum which, if sped up, would probably sound not unlike Prometheus. If it’s confusing to hear the names of Vaughan’s previous acts bandied around in the very beginning of this review, that might be because the music itself is confusing.
It’s in this first track that you get confused: what is this music for? Ursa Major has nice melodies; but the industrial crunch and kick makes them uncomfortable. So it’s not chillout.
On the other hand it’s far too slow to attempt to dance to, which I’m sure is the idea: dancing isn’t cool any more, I get it. But this seems to belie a theme that returns through the album: it’s trying very hard not to be what it seems to feel compelled to be: doof.
Everything In Colour begins like a forgotten Massive Attack track before retreating into a brief cocoon before it spreads its wings. Comparisons with Younger Brother are more or less inevitable, particularly around the midsection. There’s a lot of ideas in this track — possibly too many, as you feel pushed and pulled around in lots of different directions.
The title track is probably the standout here, reminiscent of one of the Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works that I can’t put my finger on but which I want to listen to again, probably next, because it’s raining and that album sounds amazing in the rain.
I love Even Tundra’s melodic glitchiness, like a mellower Four Tet or a less wanky John Hopkins. It’s beautiful, and a substantial part of me wishes that the whole album sounded like this.
Of course, I’m missing the point: this is an album that’s supposed to sound like a lot of things and I believe that we’re supposed to equate that with a shimmering diverse awesomeness. Where Even Tundra just took us somewhere special, Itch Crackle & Pop lumbers lazily, and while it’s clever electronic music, with sounds and textures we’ve never heard before, why spoil the groove?
Yes yes, I don’t get it. I understand. I have a feeling I’m missing the point, but it’s a point I’ve tried extremely hard to grasp over several weeks, and if I’ve not got the point already, I suspect I never will.
Busy Busy Bee and Pyramid are more or less Younger Brother, and Footsteps In Silicon sounds like the introduction to a completely different album. I can’t help but view these three tracks, plus the one before it, as part of something separate, and am encouraged to remove them from the playing order as might a drunken vegetarian remove the meat patty from a 3am hamburger.
Bird Song gets us back up to the sparkling, layered beauty that we last saw on Track 3. We’re now at Track 8, and this frustrates me: I don’t want to disrupt the flow of an album, but if an artist has demonstrated that they can create something of roundly impressive quality, and they deviate from it, who’s disrupted the flow — me, or them?
Cut from very much the same cloth is Blackbox, which is one of the nicest tracks I’ve heard all year. There are genuinely new sounds here (including one that sounds like a digital-cyber early-70s Jerry Garcia), and the interplay between the meticulously deep layers is really, really impressive. It even picks up into a moody 4-4, coming across as a cleverer Chicane.
I mean, don’t get me wrong — these two tracks together are literally insane. They’re like two halves of the same core, two chapters of the same book, a joke and its punchline. They sound amazing, and you want to go back to them again and again and again. It’s a shame not to be able to say this about the whole album.
Finally we’ve got two tracks. Nectar is a sort of Sigur-Ros-doing-Sergeant-Pepper-at-Thom-Yorke’s-wedding, and Catherine Wheel is either a hugely self-indulgent noodlefest or a hugely ironic pseudo-noodlefest. I can’t tell which.
What I can tell is that if you sequence tracks 2,3,8 and 9 you’ve got an amazing set of music that will literally dazzle you, and then dazzle you some more, and become one of your bestest friends. However, that leaves the lion’s share of the album largely spare — and you’re left wishing it could be other way around.
So where does this leave us?
Well, I’m tempted to say that I can understand that an artist doing their own thang for the first time is bound to create something that’s disjointed to its audience, probably because they’ve wanted to create it for decades and some of the concepts have been around in their minds and hard drives so long they almost predate sliced bread, etc etc etc.
I’m tempted also to conclude that it’s not our place as the audience to criticise something so innately personal. (And it really does feel, from a very early stage, like you’re in someone’s private musical musings here, which is rare in itself.)
However, jostling alongside this like a scared and blind dog is the unfortunate reality that if music, or any art, should be judged and appreciated with no knowledge of the circumstances in which it was created, then Even Tundra in its entirety is an awkward listen and not something you’ll spend a great deal of time with.
The problem is that neither of those conclusions feels entirely right, or entirely fair.
Which more or less forces me to make the very same conclusion that I wanted not to be making: that there are some absolutely incredible moments here, and there are some missable moments, and what I want more than anything else is to hear Benji Vaughan’s second album because now that the seal is broken, it’s going to be effing brilliant.
Either that, or I still completely don’t get it.
- Release Date: 9/2013