Tuesday, 28 October 2014

EP Review - Conquering Animal Sound - Talking Shapes

The opening line from Talking Shapes,  the new EP from Conquering Animal Sound, is "Nothing intricate". This doesn't sound like much when written down, but if you've listened to anything by the Glasgow based electronic duo you'll know that not only are these lyrics oddly ironic as each track is built around a tightly constructed narrative, it is that the vocal style of Anneke Kampman is to split words out into extended syllable versions of themselves, with the effect of turning even the most innocuous phrase into a finely tuned instrument.  It makes the opening line a delicate and fragile cold sounding welcome.

Talking Shapes  is the group's first material since their pretty incredible second album On Floating Bodies  which was released last year.  The EP stands as a subtle departure for the band though, continuing the trajectory started with On Floating Bodies,  and is full of contradictions.  The opening track features deeply processed vocals towards it's middle section, with a striking similarity to that of the Swedish duo The Knife and Karin Andersson's not-quite-sure-if-it-is-her vocals.  The Next Day  is a strong start to the short collection.

When listening back to the duo's debut album Kammerspeil,  it is interesting to consider the route that they have taken since then.  HTR1A,  with it's almost anthemic "if you depict a bird/give it space to fly" moment, harkens more to the quieter and more confessional side of that debut album, where as Puskas  with it's deep saw bass rolls around sounding more like the best tracks On Floating Bodies,  as it flourishes in the background with a conchord of blips, beats and processed snare claps, almost acting as a sonic puzzle.  The best work of the group are tracks like this; the tracks that feel multidimensional in a non-cliched way, appearing as if you could reach out into space and pull the arrangement as if they were a 3D wire frame, mapping the subtle shifts in sound and structure.  For example, the move in Puskas  from the quiet brush of glass-like vocals to the tribal ending rhythm and defiant lyric "maybe I could be like you" feel like aural-illusions.  The closer you listen the more you hear but the less you understand.

The final track is easily the most ambitious track on the EP and maybe the most ambitious track they have released to date.  With definite movements it is also the fiercest the duo has sounded on record, almost seething with a dark energy and anger that truly surprises.  As I said before, this EP is built on contradiction - soft vocals matched with deep bass and acerbic lyrics (“this room’s the centre of the world / of the things you seek without looking” and “now make up your own scenario / trying to describe space”), but A Solid Door  sees the group focus on a structure that twists and meanders, never fully forming a track you can pin down.  It unfurls from a staggering rhythm section towards the angry vocal, and ends up for the last third an instrumental outro that once again is an illusion - giving the impression of an orchestrated improvisation.

The EP is a very strong collection of tracks and hopefully shines a light on where the group will go next with their future material.  It's not like other post-album EPs, where it feels like off cuts or leftover session tracks, but works as a cohesive set of songs, like all of the best EPs.

- Mark Shields

Conquering Animal Sound - Talking Shapes  is out now via Chemikal Undergound on 12" vinyl or download here, or from all good record shops and online music retailers.

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