Saturday 9 November 2013


Google "the death of the album" and you have like a zillion results (259 million on google dot com), the top one being a Wikipedia entry on the actual phrase itself. A lot of publications have based entire articles around this phrase, which you can see on the Wikipedia snippet described as a "perceived decline of a traditional album in the 21st century." The keyword here, however, is "perceived" - and of course, it is perceived. It is not fact. You don't need to read any article to refute it. Although single songs are more readily available and people aren't necessarily having to buy entire albums just for one song anymore (as my dad admitted he used to do), these single songs happen to come from actual albums. People are still making albums. It's not, or shouldn't be, a big debate. It simply shows the readiness and the willingness of people to jump on the naysaying bandwagon and commit themselves to pronouncing the supposed decline or, more melodramatically, "death" of something, almost like a celebratory lament: a virtual conjuring of vultures circling. Tell me if I'm wrong.

In a similar vein, I'd like to introduce the new album, Lava Diviner (Truestory) by Texan producer Botany. It was released this week and it is a concept album, charting an imaginary cult in their efforts to make a volcano erupt via their prayers. I've already written about a couple of songs from the album, 'Quatic' and 'Simple Creatures', and was curious to hear how they fit into the concept, because both tracks are strong by themselves. Let's see, shall we?

From the bubbling bleeps and drum chaos of at the intro of 'Comm', we're led into a soothing paradise of sounds: true glitters of metallic percussion and chanting, wordless vocals. An introduction to the ideas behind this album, a searching view of a distant, unknown, tropical land. Tribal drumming rises out of the sounds, fades out, until a raw hip hop beats comes in, leading us to the next track, 'Anchor'. True to its name, heavy, bursting kicks lie at the heart of the beat, cementing it as the rest of the sounds are free to float all around - a dream world of pretty, ambient sounds. Inhuman voices yelp out, as if you're passing by the glowing mouth of a cave in the sweat of ominous night air. We're taken slowly into that forboding maw, as a low shamanistic vocal chants at the beginning of 'Owa'.

White noise fills your ears to the bounce of the beat, swimming synth echoing more singularly than before, the howl of voices in a labyrinth of tunnels. Things start to heat up. A huge room opens up, signalled by the expansive fluttering of the sounds in 'Per Eon', a greeting of a song where unintelligible voices chatter in its intense, all-encompassing sound, slowly fading to nothing. It's here, in 'Simple Creatures', where things turn a little eerie, helped by the soaring vocals of RYAT, our brief guide who in otherworldly layerings of aching tones repeats the mantra "simple creatures". We find ourselves in the midst of a ceremony in 'Cant / Goosemother' regular stamps of beating drums give way to hoards of relentless clapping and looping bloops of some giant marimba. A chorus rises up and sways. By the end, we're left with a more peaceful beat, more delicate sounds that herald utopian visions underpinned by sub bass.

But the real truth lies in the raw boom-bap of the unnerving 'Quatic' - euphoric sunny guitar sweeps get left behind for the hard reality of molten lava and ever-maddening voices, twirling over distorted walkways of bass. Things get serious. 'Small Keys' explodes with a hard, aggressive beat, decorated with snare ornamentations, a frenzy of sparkling noises jostling for supremacy. We finally meet the 'Lava Diviner' - a short oasis of exalted, choral reverence. Then the lamenting guitars of 'Celeste' and breezy drums give way to a dubstep beat, the perfect rhythmic vehicle for the less-busy, darker sounds of this track. Whooping, chuckling shades of vox fly out at you. Things turn orchestral as strings take over hounded by white noise. By the end, it's nothing but a frightening concoction of noise and brief murmurings of a low, demonic voice: a glimpse of the dark heart at work.

Perhaps things have faded for now. Carefree, complex drum patterns characterise 'Sunna / Show Me', a track whose jazzy, lounge leanings feel like gusts of pure air compared to the suffocatingly intense feel of some of what has come before. The drums fade and a flute plays alongside a lo-fi piano, the thin air of dawn. One single menacing note of bass sounds and leads us into 'Birdlife'. It's a structured, 2/4 affair, rich waves of chords ushering in a sense of calm as vocal samples skip along. It builds to an overarching crescendo of farewell. But as you look back, mournful strings remind us of the journey we've taken, remembering strange destructive human desires, the sound of molten bubbling still in our heads. Whether this cult prays for it or not, the threat and the power of the volcano is always there: nature remains.

... A journey, that's for sure. That's what this album was. And it's all thanks to a skill at moulding a whole plethora of analogue noises into evocative, believable soundscapes. Well-crafted, often intricate beats keep the pace and augment the dynamics inherent in these sounds. Botany himself, real name Spencer Stephenson, calls the whole thing a "cathartic release" - perhaps, then, it reflects his own heart, his own passions. This album itself was an eruption waiting to happen.

It's out now on Western Vinyl (as vinyl) and you can also buy it from iTunes or Amazon.

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