Grenier Meets Archie Pelago And Things Get Awesome: Album Review
Many of us here at Sensible Reason would happily call ourselves music nerds. While some of us choose to lose ourselves in the impromptu fractaling ecstasy of an epic jam, another segment of Sensible Reason knows what it is to experience bliss by digging through a crate, putting on a record, and finding that perfect recorded track. Grenier Meets Archie Pelago is one of those rare moments, and we think it is time for this album to stop flying under your radar as it almost flew under ours.
Released to seemingly little fanfare on May 23rd by British label Melodic, Grenier Meets Archie Pelago brings to mind the Frank Sinatra classic, “Strangers In The Night,” for two reasons. The first is admittedly a little cheesy — joking lyrics such as “Up to the moment when we said our first hello little did we know” and “It turned out so right for strangers in the night” sum up the chance meeting between the jazz-influenced electronic-fusion band Archie Pelago and electronic producer Grenier too well. It was seemingly a love at first sight collaboration. On the more serious side, the horns of the opening track, “Swoon,” call to mind classically great music from any era. “Swoon” takes the warmth, emotion, and livity from Archie Pelago’s instrumental doodlings and mixes it with low-end production from Grenier to ground the track and give it a sense of depth worthy of film scores. This is a wonderful collaboration between two like-minded artists that works all the way until the final track, “Monolith,” fades out.
Why however, should you care if you have no prior experience with either of these two artists? Dubstep fans might recognize Grenier under his alias, DJG, where he released singles for labels such as GetDarker, Wheel & Deal, and Lo Dubs. By 2009, Grenier was a victim of dubstep’s commercial success and he did not like the aggressive direction the sound was headed. He began a shift with his productions and began dropping the speed a bit, until he was in the area of music combining house, techno, dubstep, UK Garage, and more — a genre we may simply call UK Bass music now. With an ear towards experimentation, Grenier began to look to the freeform world of jazz music. It was here that friend and fellow producer Distal planted the seed that formed Grenier Meets Archie Pelago.
Distal, the Atlanta-based Embassy Recordings label-head had just commissioned a remix from the classically-trained trio, a rework of the Distal & Hxdb track “Booyant.” Distal proceeded to turn Grenier onto the Brooklyn three’s jazzy leanings, and when the four of them met for the first time, they started to write music almost instantly. To fans of the three Brooklynites, this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. Playing together since 2010, the trio of Hirshi (trumpet/DJ), Cosmo D (cello/Ableton) and Kroba (sax/Ableton) are uniquely known for how they seamlessly blend playing live instruments with a DJ-style dance-music performance. If you can catch them in the right bohemian atmosphere, such as playing from the catwalk of a gigantic warehouse to a room filled with a few hundred people, you can see how their musical roots traverse all over the history of jazz and other traditional dance music, only to be recreated through their live looping and production skills. Archie Pelago have been stalwart guests of New York City’s superb Mister Saturday Night parties, whose hosts Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin have always valued fun, danceability, and experimentation over genre conventions. If you live in New York City, we hope that you’re beginning to take notice of their jams.
Now that you have a background in these two artists, you can begin to picture how music fans might fall in love with this collaboration. While this looks good on paper, how does the album actually stack up?
These thirteen tracks vary in tempo and influence. Many of them are beautiful, unhurried sketches that sound like the unhurried San Francisco afternoon that they were born out of. Our favorites, such as “Phosphorent,” sound like they could power an exotic dance floor. “Phosphorent” slinks along, looping sax and beats, until a decidedly funky bass line begins to ride along with it at the one-minute mark. Chopped vocals sound like something out of a house track, while the strings touch at something you could hear in a country-western film. There’s so much going on that it is truly amazing it sounds so well put together and smooth, and mesmerizing in how it works so darn well in the first place.
“The Cartographer’s Wife,” track nine, calls to mind eastern influence through its choice of instruments. It starts off with a string-based (and computer-processed) wail reminiscent of a fog horn eerily floating long distances over the water. Is this intentional or is it reaching to think of the song as the thoughts of an early-world explorer and mapmaker far from home? We like to think so, but regardless, soon that bass line kicks back in and whatever thoughts you had previously drop out as you enjoy the fuzzed out bliss. High-concept in theory but communal in execution, this song is like a watching a magician on the dance floor. Sometimes you can even see that child-like wonder appear on people’s faces again as they listen.
These tracks are primarily instrumentals with snippets of vocals used for feel more than lyricism, if they’re used at all. Despite this, Grenier Meets Archie Pelago packs more cinematic and emotional music than any release that has passed over this desk all year. Grenier throws in the horsepower that drives the songs and crafts bass that is executed with a deft touch. The rhythm section rides a bit low in the mix and doesn’t overpower the tracks, but it stays perfectly tuned and mastered to provide a powerful low-end ground to the music, such as in the brooding banger, “Tell Me Everything.” The track starts off with a long trumpet, cello, and sax intro, but they fade out to make room for a soulful bit of bass and drums, followed by some acidy synths. Then things fade out again and we get a little bit of play between trumpet and sax. Around 3:00, when the strings and horns swoop back in and the drums thunder back to life with the cymbal ticking overhead, it is like an ocean wave crashing over you. The entire track is a bumpy, playful ride and it is one of the more exhilarating moments that I’ve heard on record in recent memory.
These primarily-instrumental tracks allow the listener to develop their own storyline on an album that could easily be a travelogue. This album feels like a passport through different times and different places, and has the most depth and creativity of any LP I’ve heard this year. The nearest comparison to it we can draw would be Bonobo’s The North Borders, but Archie Pelago and Grenier manage to accomplish the sound with only four people. It is the rare full-length electronic album that doesn’t get boring, and a concept album in feel but not in its hype. It is a self contained storybook, and an early contender for album of the year. Grenier and Archie Pelago were indeed perfect strangers.
Grenier Meets Archie Pelago is now available as digital download, CD and double 180g heavyweight vinyl. We also have a deluxe package which includes a high quality, limited edition, A2 art print on 280gsm paper.
Rating: ★★★★★ / ★★★★★
4. Jellyfish Supernova
8. Tower Of Joined Hands
9. The Cartographers Wife
10. Two If By Sea
11. Pliny The Elder
12. Tell Me Everything