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White Noise: Palmbomen II - Palmbomen II

Monday, 6 April 2015

Palmbomen II - Palmbomen II

Label: Beats In Space

Just when words like analog, lofi house and ‘recorded straight from hardware’ become so ubiquitous that they make you want to go foetal and listen to precision-engineered techno in a padded cell, along comes an album like Palmbomen II to take the wind right out of your sanctimonious sails. For his second album, Kai Hugo has created an album which is much like the glut of retro house that has recently occupied more than its fair share of record shelves. But at the same time, it isn’t.

As a Dutch transplant to LA, Hugo is clearly a sun-worshipper, a fact abundantly clear in his colourful, saturated take on club music. The sun blazes through a thick haze over these tracks, which corral burbling house, dew-eyed new age melodies and the occasional foray into gurgling acid into a memorable, mesmeric package.

Hugo recorded each of these tracks in a single take after a day of practice, sometimes just clipping his favourite five minutes from an extended jam. And while the live feel leaves things loose and fuzzy, the tracks of Palmbomen II never meander. It’s a slow walk on a beautiful day, sure, but you never get the feeling that Hugo has lost track of where he is going. Each foray, like Cindy Savalas’ deviation from starry synthwork into a light acid workout, feels deliberate and coherent. Indeed, the live effect greatly adds to the album’s appeal. The odd shifts in time signature or missed notes make it feel human, affably rough at the edges.

There’s a lot to love here, as the LP gains momentum up to the stunning two-punch centrepiece of Samuel Aboah and Mary Louise Lefante (the tracks are named after minor X-Files characters). The former is Hugo’s supremely confident take on warehouse techno, rough and raucous, a stuttering drum flex and seething acid line assailed by a wispy ambience and a lush, celestial chorus. Though Hugo never leaves the dancefloor for long; as that 303 comes back with a vengeance, bumped a few notches further up the pH scale. Directly afterwards Mary Louise Lefante is a winning confection of wooden chimes, sugary acid and an adorably awkward cowbell that sits atop the mix.

Hugo has struck gold with his sound palette, which is warm and inviting while constantly hitting those pleasure centres. But he knows better than to repeat a single track time and again, and the album’s relentless smile starts to falter towards the end. Vic Trevino’s chirpy exuberance is beset by insistent cymbals before the fidelity is blown out and dragged down into the muck for the close.  Jesse O’Neill verges on manic, its optimistic synths assaulted by a nervous array of tight locked melodies, while Rebecca Waite sounds disjointed and unsure, its crushed drums clattering awkwardly behind lustreless melodies. These less optimistic passages make for an interesting change of dynamic as the album draws to a close.

Hugo draws emotion even from his ninety-second interludes, such as the mystical Irish lullaby of Caitlin Ross, or the gorgeous bucolic closer Leo Danziger, whose warbling synths sound like a videogame funeral that might actually make you cry. Don’t let yourself be taken in by the sense of loss though, just stick Palmbomen II on again from the start. It’s a winner, an album that invites you to wander through an alien landscape guided by a warm, comforting hand. It’s a walk you’ll want to take time and again.


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