Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Love Spirals Downwards - Flux

Release Date - 1998

For a couple of years in the mid to late 90's any movie trailer that you saw that had any sense of futuristic action featured a generic breakbeat track typically over some throaty unintelligible female vocals. For some reason, the drum and bass breakbeat became shorthand for futuristic action movies. Some of these films actually featured full soundtracks in the same vein, like The Matrix movies. The funny thing about all of this is D&B didn't become the music of the future, and pretty much all of it sounds incredibly dated. Even current artists who produce within the genre have a hard time breaking out of the box that they got put in in the 80's.

What does this have to do with anything? Well Flux, the third album by Love Spirals Downwards, prominently features the breakbeat, but in an interesting and effective way. Their previous two albums were a mix of ethereal female vocals mixed with shoegazey guitars, and are good in their own right. But on flux they dropped the standard percussion of those albums in favor of a more electronic approach. The mix is a lot more appealing than it sounds on paper, in that it gives us a unique take on both shoegaze as well as downbeat electronica and trip-hop.

The album actually starts off somewhat weakly, with the fairly forgettable yet pleasant "City Moon", which is followed by a much more interesting track "Alicia". The song is an interesting mix of Spanish sounding guitars and vocals over the breakbeat that will become standard for nearly the rest of the album. One thing that is interesting is how close they come to sounding too New Agey on the album, yet they never cross the line into schmaltziness.

There are three vocal based tracks that really stick out to me on Flux. The first is "Psyche", which has all the elements of Flux that makes it such a good album. There is less delay on the vocals, which make the lyrics more intelligible and affecting, and the droning loop underneath provides a good base for the rest of the track to build on. There are actually only a few elements at work on the track, but they come together with such ease that they sound as one. Next would be the similar "By Your Side". It sounds like a b-side to "Psyche" in that it evokes much of the same emotions and has many of the same elements. The vocals on the track sound somewhat flat, but that just makes it that much more endearing,especially considering the studio wizardry that would make them sound completely impersonal if they were to be recorded today. Last is "Ring", which takes its time a bit more than the other two tracks mentioned. Listened to one after another, this one is definitely comes off sounding more sincere. I don't know if its the vocal performance or the more up front backing track, but whatever it is makes this the track to listen to if you were only to listen to one track off of Flux.

However its not all breakbeats on Flux, as exampled on "Sunset Bell". Starting off sounding like a lullaby, it twists and morphs into a loopy psyched out bliss track, in the vein of the first two Seefeel records. At 8 minutes it is the longest track of the album, but no time is wasted. The build covers the running time well, and it never comes off as sounding bored or tired.

Flux is an interesting piece of crossover music history. It is strange to me that this blend of genre's exhibited wasn't emulated by other musicians, but maybe thats what makes this album so memorable. 

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