Paul Blackford – Fireflies (Tokyo Electo Beat Recordings)
Although he is perhaps better known for his straight-up electro work, Paul Blackford has long been one of a small pool of artists who seems equally happy exploring other sounds. In the wider world of contemporary electronica this usually means the artists move between house and techno – two genres where these days the differences in style are often unremarkable enough that eyelids are barely batted when a producers swaps one for the other; Let’s face it, the symbiotic relationship between the two rarely affords a specialist in one a true opportunity to spread their artistic wings.
Fireflies is a useful reminder, perhaps, that the world of electronic music remains a larger one than we typically tend to be aware of. Partly the blame for that is down to the way in which the music is packaged to us these days. Packaged and consumed; the increasing compartmentalization, the way in which we are often steered down particular routes based on the prison of our buying habits and basic tastes tend to lock us quickly into specific sonic interests. It is not only producers who find themselves failing to branch out. We, the listener, are just as culpable. And it can be hard to escape even the most obvious traps. We like what we know. It speedily defines us, and sometimes even the most educated of palates can be the ones with rarefied and limited tastes.
What we have here is perhaps a little difficult to quantify for anyone coming at it from the modern world’s searing electronic strains, and unused to such a departure. Downtempo, sleepy, and warm may go some way to covering Fireflies but they don’t come close to capturing the essential spirit. It is, in some ways, reminiscent of an earlier time, an era when electronic music lacked a lot of the self-awareness it now wears like armour. Perhaps self-absorption is a better way to put that.
There is a gentle and adventuring energy at the heart of Fireflies, and a certain amount of purity, which provides direction for the bitter-sweet melodies which fuel and heat the music. Latitude unfolds and engulfs with the delicacy of IDM at it’s most meaningful, that crossroads it occasionally reached between its attempts to distance itself from the sweat and thunder of the club and its desire to be thought of as ‘proper’ music where it reached towards a fleeting sense of grandeur. It’s a pretty tune, wide-eyed and alive to the interplay between rhythm and melody. Moonlight evokes a similar vibe, but stretches it outwards, gilding the tune with quivering, soulful, light. Fireflies itself is more introspective, shading itself with deepening mood.
Syndicate is perhaps the best of the collection. On the surface it doesn’t deviate too far from the rest of the tunes, but it instates a noticeably darker hue; moodier and perhaps even heavier, it fluctuates between the simple beauty of the rest of the release and something more solid. There is a genuine wistfulness at its heart which lends it a maturity and slight cynicism which elevates the little touches and half-melodies, and gives the track a sense of movement perhaps lacking elsewhere.
Mostly, though, Fireflies is built on variations of a theme. While the music is gorgeously realised, the emotional depth of Syndicate amplifies it’s contrasts with the slighter moments and the beats, well formed though they are, sometimes lack a little bit of bite which might have tightened up the moods and pushed the music onwards towards a more colourful horizon.
Even so, it feels like a departure from contemporary electronica’s increasingly work-a-day styling. And while it occasionally feels a little uncertain of moving beyond beautiful and slightly hazy sketches to something more emotionally sure of itself, it remains a release of rare subtlety and warmth.