Reviews:: Canon Blue Colonies

Canon Blue is the moniker of Daniel James, a Nashville based multi-instrumentalist. But don't be fooled; his sound is as Nashville as Outkast's is West Coast. Daniel prefers looping electronics and ethereal melodies to lap steel experimentation. His new disc - Colonies - is an interesting listen for fans of atmospheric back beats and Brit pop vocals.

The record opens with Treehouse (which I have to admit is one of my least favorite numbers on the disc) and I was caught off guard by the Radioheadish sounds I heard. From my initial exposure to his music, I was expecting more Album Leaf beauty, so hearing Daniel's voice meander in a Yorke-ian fashion and the pulsing electronics made me skeptical about the effort. But Daniel doesn't stay in that arena for long, jumping into a much more inspired number - Pilguin Pop - that showcases his skills.

The four-minute track creates a whimsical feel (a la Dan Snaith) before exploding into a drum heavy, static filled mélange. The energy is high, and even when the tempo slows down James uses staccato rhythms in the background to keep the song pushing forward. It's interesting, especially when you read Pitchfork's review of Snaith's new album, but unlike a lot of electro-sonic adventurers, Daniel never lets his vocals become a cursory afterthought. They are clean, powerful and crisp and always stand on equal footing as the melodies he creates.

You only have to listen to tracks like Odds and Ends or Rum Diary to see why his record is so enjoyable. While you might hear his vocals drift into the Stereophonics (or any other post modern British piano-heavy pop act you might be tempted to compare him to) realm, he never takes the easy way out by relying on simple double acoustics and drums sounds. Instead, James crafts intricate, chaotic, schizophrenic electronic beats that never allow you to get too comfortable. He uses crescendos and feedback to add emotion and strength to his songs and throws in contrasting pace to help his sound stand out.

Pale Horse shows a more organic side to his song writing, as a piano constantly appears and steals the spotlight from the electronics. The song reminds you that James is more than a robotic engineer and it is a pleasant palette cleanser for Rum Diary - a song that uses an insane amount of loops, textures and beats. The reason this song works, like much of his efforts, is the direct contrast you are hit with at every turn. On Rum Diary, his voice is pure and strong, but the accompaniment is frantic and insecure (I mean that as a compliment - as it constantly morphs its identity).

He jumps into an angrier mood on Battle Hymm. The sing/talked vocals and big drums completely change the tone of the record, but I'm not 100% sold on the track, but he cuts the song off fast enough to not dramatically affect the tone of the record, and comes back with the most orchestral number on the album. Sea Monster is layered in atmospheric ebbs and flows, and reminds me a bit of old Nick Hardcourt works. The piano and floating harmonies are top shelf and the song, despite its big sound, is incredibly reversed and sincere.

I've gone this long without mentioning that James had production help from Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, but Target Practice should hit home with fans of the Brooklyn band (think Plans with a bit more chaos and a wash of static). It uses nice vocals, strings and computer textures and draws you in tight before switching gears with a rise in the heartbeat pulse beat to end the song.

Is this record for everyone? Probably not as he doesn't find obvious hooks and standard rhythms, but the sonic experiments he uses and the crystal clear vocals definitely made Colonies a listen I truly enjoyed. As James gets more adventurous and experienced with his writing, I can only imagine the sounds he will produce.
MP3:: Rum Diary

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