By Eric Blendermann
I had to wait for a rainy day to listen to Getting Closer, the new album by CLOSE (out now on !K7 Records). On a day that the sky was low, and cloudy, and dim without being fully dark, this collection of low-key, introspective electronic grooves suddenly sounded just right, articulating mixed emotions but staying consistently sophisticated, deep, thoughtful. Maybe low-key isn’t the right expression – more like low-light? Getting Closer is music for dim rooms and murky intentions.
CLOSE is the latest project of London-based DJ/producer Will Saul, accomplished label head of Simple Records and Aus Music and tasteful remixer of such artists as Cortney Tidwell, Pearson Sound, Appleblim, and The Juan MacLean (among many). More than once, Saul has described his musical style as “deep dubdiscohousetechno with flashes of soul and irresistible melodies that hark back to the early days of Detroit (from Motown to Planet E).” On Getting Closer, Saul’s doing something different, leaving behind the minimalist 4/4 boom of the Simple and Aus releases, slowing things down for a lush, layered sound, using a much warmer palette of musical tones. There’s a painterly quality to these tracks, where the color, stroke, and texture are as important as the line.
Originally, CLOSE was envisioned as an anonymous remixing identity, and well-received CLOSE remixes for artists such as Fink, Little Dragon, and Scuba have indeed been released over the past year. The anonymity gimmick also gives Saul the opportunity to step away from the dancefloor-focused formula of his releases under his own name and on his own labels, so the tracks on Getting Closer feature a wide variety of tempos, moods, and structures.
For example, “I Died 1000 Times” opens the album, saturated with washes of reverbing keyboards and gentle drum machines in support of the confessional vocals of London singer-songwriter Charlene Soraia. It’s beautiful and it’s electronic, but it’s a long way from the dance floor. Similarly, “My Way,” a collaboration with Fink that features the unmistakable velvet vocals of Joe Dukie from Fat Freddy’s Drop, sounds like a midnight journal entry brought forth in sound, obsessed and intimate, accented with the lightest guitar plucking and keyboards that swell and fade away. And “Born in a Rolling Barrel,” produced in collaboration with Saul’s cohorts October and Appleblim, is another slow dub contemplation, with the classic voice of Tikiman bringing gravity and melancholy to the track.
Hints of Saul’s more up-tempo producing styles do appear on Getting Closer, though mostly on instrumental tracks – the handclaps and high-hat lines of “O.S.C.A.R.” coalesce into a nice, mellow mid-tempo groove, and the jangling “Time Fades” picks up momentum until it’s flowing steadily along, a river of rhythms rising and mingling. The most forceful track on the album is probably “Cubizm,” which starts with the same nervous energy that you feel in most of these tracks, but then breaks loose into a solid forward groove, cooking along in a tumble of cowbells and drums, with more and more keyboards and echoes filling out the sound.
Like “Cubizm,” on Getting Closer everything evolves, every track reveals another level: “Beam Me Up” fades in sounding like another late-night meditation, then picks up the pace and becomes a steady house track that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Dubtribe Sound System mix. “Wallflower” first frames Fink’s soulful vocals in spacey ambience, then grows in intensity that almost, almost becomes unbearable. At the end of the proceedings, “Inside” begins with the most up-front beats of any of these tracks, but then brings forward sunny horns and shimmering echoes, suggesting the winding down of a busy, unsettled night and the morning to come.
With the complex and asymmetrical song structures on Getting Closer, and the moody atmospherics in both the sounds and lyrics on this album, Will Saul has created a strong, sophisticated collection of interesting music for the debut album from his CLOSE project. I’ve read one of his CLOSE remixes described as “haunting but soothing,” and I’d say that about captures it – the initial melancholy and sometimes unsettling tone of these tracks gives way to a connection with the real emotions underlying this music, and you’re left feeling closer to something.