I’m not a morning person, something that was painfully obvious even as a grade schooler. Back then, my dad would occasionally drag me and/or my brother out of bed at 2:00 in the morning, if not earlier, so we could go with him on his paper route. Thought painful at the time, especially during the winter months when hauling bundles of newspapers out to the truck, I actually do look back on those times with some nostalgia.
Of course, there was the time well-spent with my father, especially when we went out for breakfast afterwards. But I do remember the experience of it all, of sitting there in the Nissan King Cab in the very early hours out there on the western edge of Omaha, an area that doesn’t exist anymore due to urban sprawl. I also remember trying to find something, anything to listen to help offset the tedium of rolling up newspapers. Of course, the truck’s radio was of the analog variety, so it was something of an art to try and get the needle in the exact right spot on the spectrum.
In those early hours, before smog and clouds filled the sky, when the atmosphere was at its clearest, you could pick up AM transmissions from Colorado and everywhere in between. Sometimes the needle would land somewhere between two stations, and you’d get a ghostly mix as the broadcasts fought each other amidst the static, one overriding the other only to be drowned out in the next moment, until you couldn’t tell where they began and ended.
Arche-Lymb, Depth Affect’s first full-length, could be thought of as an almost random sampling of radio broadcasts, as if the French quartet has sent the needle scudding across the bandwidth and collected everything they picked up for record fodder. Hip-hop vocals collide with icy new wave synths, which then run up next to Vince Guaraldi-esque piano melodies playing hopscotch with reggae guitars while handclaps, glitchwork, wheezy accordions, battered acoustic guitars, clipped vocal shards, and drifting ambient whispers add to the dense, kaleidoscopic, and rough-hewn framework.
And I think it’s the rough-hewnness of it all that makes it feel so alive. Certainly plenty of hours were spent in all manner of sound-tweaking software to achieve some of the sounds that can be heard on Arche-Lymb, if only to manage the myriad layers of rhythms that keep the disc moving. But there is nary a cold, artificial moment on the disc anywhere. It could be the constant presence of acoustic guitars on tracks like “Honey Folky” and “Blinzeln Blume,” or the frequent use of vocals, be they MCs (both Cyne and Anticon’s Alias lend their rhymes on the disc) or cut-up vocals (such as the mixture of Jamaican beatboxing and b-boy callouts on “Dani Guimauve”).
There are certainly moments where the whole delirious mixture gets away from the band, where the individual tracks’ personalities get lost in the endless shuffle. But that only makes the moments where everything comes together, the stars align, and the myriad sounds employed by Depth Affect display an amazing amount of synchronicity all the more breathtaking.
The opening track, “Honey Folky,” is as exhilarating and whimsical as anything The Avalanches have done, and chances are, Depth Affect didn’t have to use nearly as many samples. “One Day or 50” is the album’s first, most obvious venture into the realm of hip-hop. However, there’s a delightful incongruity between Cyne’s bitter (and explicit) tale of urban crime and depravity, and the almost childlike naïveté conjured up by Depth Affect’s music, which consists largely of pittering beats and cooing, whirring synths.
The disc’s one-two punch comes during “Perpendicular B-Boy” and “Sarah Carbone.” The first track is anchored by an acoustic guitar which is then gradually buried under layers of glitch, reverberating synths, and icy bursts of static-shrouded vocals. There’s an amazing amount of stuff going on throughout the track, and it seems to grow increasingly frayed around the edges, especially as the guitar, the most “real” aspect of the song, seems to be overridden with laptop manipulation — which just adds to the anxious tone of the song.
On the other hand, “Sarah Carbone” is the disc’s high point, an absolutely stellar track that takes off from the very first second and never stops. Icy beats crunch away as the synths send out short, glass-like melodic snippets that shiver and ping-pong back and forth across the speakers. The high point, however, and the moment that just caused a smile to break out across my face, occurs about three minutes in, as what sounds like ghostly steel drums come sliding down through the hiccuping vocals.
And despite the rather overwhelming sonic blitzkrieg that occurs throughout the disc, there are brief respites such as “Blinzeln Blume” and “Vladgorhythm Suicide.” Though they contain just as much sonic trickery, it’s more subdued. On the former, the subtlety manifests as billows of fluttering glitchwork and sparse piano melodies, an absolutely gorgeous track that one gets incredibly lost in despite it’s short length. On the latter, it’s graceful guitar strums and heavier, buzzing drones resulting in a hazy, hallucinatory structure that one could expect from the likes of Off The Sky.
Arche-Lymb’s most obvious selling point is the appearance of Anticon member Alias, who appears on “Wyoming Highway.” (Depth Affect opened for Alias, and left the MC so enamored that he claimed they were one of the best bands he’s played with.) It’s not a bad track, but it’s fairly straightforward and far less hazy and atmospheric than one might expect from Alias considering his most recent release, or from Depth Affect for that matter. However, Arche-Lymb proves time and again that Depth Affect are clearly able to stand on their own skills, which have grown far more ambitious since their earliest efforts.