Maribou State’s Portraits is just as much a bird’s-eye view of the British landscape as it is an album. The two U.K. producers have composed a dewy electronic prodigy, complete with a fearless combination of techno, idyllic instrumentation and gripping vocals. Just look to the album art to get a sense of what I mean: a blurred forest and streaks of earthy colors resonate with the natural, raw emotion this album bravely confesses.
“Home” starts off Portraits with a surprising dose of clean, irresistible electric guitar and alluring techno beat that instantly gets you swaying. It incorporates Bondax-like glitch through vinyl record hiss and muffled, soft vocals. You can almost hear laidback beach groove, but “Home” never actually goes there, or any place that carefree, just as the album never offers anything less serious than sultry sadness.
Tracks such as “The Clown” and “Rituals” are anchored by dark, dramatic elements. “The Clown” includes Sam Smith-sounding melodies, piano, and powerful string sections that build theatrical, Victorian tone. It all culminates in James Blake eeriness. The repeated lyric of “Rituals” (“sell me your soul”) mingles with guitar builds and emerging techno roar before erupting into irresistible rhythm. When combined with sensational string drop-ins, this track transforms into a dazed, slow motion club banger. As if it’s not operatic enough, it ends with a crashing of token horror movie sounds.
“Wallflower” and “Raincoats” emphasize grim soundscapes, like the gloominess of walking along a cobblestone street during a light drizzle. On “Raincoats,” the breathy vocals have a unique walkie-talkie filter to them–just one instance of Maribou State’s deft ability at combining digital distortions with diverse instrumentation.
“Steal” smooths out the wrinkles of glitch through Holly Walker’s sorrowful lyrics and celestial voice. “Now, I need somebody that could ease my mind,” she sings gently, gliding over stop-and-go rhythm. While Walker sings despair on “Steal,” her vocals on tracks like “Midas” balance Portraits with a blanket of affection. When paired with piano and pulling on the more soulful strands of her range, there is an ooey-gooey, honey-colored groove on this track. By the end of “Midas,” Walker’s wordless up-and-down vocals evoke gospel qualities.
But I was most blown away by “Natural Fool,” which uses startling bass guitar to create one of the most hauntingly beautiful tracks on this album. Perhaps it is the fascinating finish of twinkling bells that make it stand out and add to the current of sultriness riding through the songs.
Nothing about Portraits is inconsequential; every sound and texture is loaded with rich, resolute purpose. It stops short of jovialness, but echoes its possibility through arrhythmic rhythms and touching vocals. It’s intoxicatingly complex and carries effortless dynamism. Join the rapture June 1st.–Rachel Haney