Monday, February 20, 2017

Clap! Clap! - A Thousand Skies Review

The power of sound allows producers, unaccompanied by vocalists, to fulfill certain aesthetics that otherwise would've been thwarted had a singer been featured on every song. This is where prolific artists like Boards Of Canada, Burial, or The Avalanches come into play, creating worlds so drenched in the five senses it's hard to imagine being anywhere else whilst listening. Currently there's only a handful of producers entertaining this idea, one of them being Cristiano Crisci. The Italian DJ, working under the pseudonym Clap! Clap!, worships foreign lands unbeknownst to him. Like our global society as a whole, the sounds Clap! Clap! welcomes with open arms feel alien to the first world, despite African and Middle Eastern influences playing prominent roles in music from western civilization for decades now. The difference in Crisci's case is two-fold, both in execution and obsession. Marring UK Bass and House, two genres created on the cusp of technological revolution, with traditional instruments and samples hardened in the African soil for centuries causes a style wholly idiosyncratic. That's your execution. And with 2014's Tayi Bebba as evidence A, 2017's A Thousand Skies as evidence B, Clap! Clap!'s commitment to the craft is your obsession.

In both cases, Crisci has applied a light story or theme to unify the piece as a whole. Tayi Bebba centered itself around a expedition to an unknown island, while this year's A Thousand Skies aims to follow a girl's journey through the constellations. They're loose, to be expected given the lack of formal lyrics, but the constant reminder in the track titles helps to give identities to the song's themselves. While both LP's share a commonality in the clash between mechanic and organic, one seems rooted in the earth while the other feels more apt for fantasies. Throughout the duration of A Thousand Skies, the primary aesthetic is that of human existentialism, as if Clap! Clap!'s bringing the countless myths found in early societies to life. There's nothing specific here, it's all loosely structured like an umbrella that welcomes all concepts of the universe, which results in a piece that's strangely distant yet inherently personal. Like the girl flying through the stars, one's classifiably human while the other's virtually unknown. As far as aesthetics go, much like Tayi Bebba, A Thousand Skies succeeds without much detraction. Crisci's worldly musical taste and knack for amalgamating jarring instrumentation goes a long way in transporting listeners to a land they wouldn't be able to find elsewhere.

Considering how engrossing A Thousand Skies can be, it's tough to discern favorite moments, despite the LP being overloaded with them. But alas, this wouldn't be a review without some dissection, and the attention to detail Clap! Clap! offers here warrants it. The first track that can't miss the listeners attention is 'Nguwe,' which features South African singer Bongeziwe Mabandla. While Tayi Bebba was featureless, the four extra performers scattered throughout the LP do little more than add an extra instrument for Crisci to work with. In 'Nguwe's' case, Mabandla's the best asset, leaping and swooning over a barrage of otherworldly soundscapes. The final product is excellent, and as good an official intro as Tayi Bebba's 'The Holy Cave.' Elsewhere, lead single 'Hope' finds Crisci trying to familiarize those who aren't accustomed to him, structuring the track in such a way that feels similar to a handful of Downtempo or Electronica artists, namely Bonobo and Flume. For the vast majority of the LP though, the pronounced sound is Clap! Clap!'s own. Pick and choose, as no track lacks the vision the overall piece sets out to achieve. From the rumbling Drum N' Bass of 'Ar-Raqis' to the atmospheric Footwork of 'Rainy Souls, Gloomy Futures,' A Thousand Skies is overloaded with idiosyncrasies.

However, it's best moment is one that primes itself for that title. A quick glance at the tracklist, spanning 15 tracks, and you'll find only three songs over three minutes. One fails to reach four while the other exceeds that mark by ten seconds. 'Ode To The Pleiades' though, well it eclipses the six-minute mark. While a plethora of short and sweet beats surround the middle-album mammoth, 'Ode To The Pleiades' works as its own internal journey. It's Clap! Clap!'s most ambitious work to date, succeeding in all respects, as it touches upon everything the DJ has presented thus far, and will in the future. The UK Bass, with whimsy strings and tribal chants, kickstart's the track, easing the audience into expectations. However, midway through, an unorthodox piano emerges, and 'Pleiades' transforms into a genre-pushing collage whose beauty can best be seen in the confidence and calmness Crisci presents. Unfortunately, A Thousand Skies never rekindles that plateau's allure, causing the rest of the LP to feel marginally substandard. Added to that, 'Pleiades' really represents the mannerisms of a closing track to a tee, making its placement objectionable.

While A Thousand Skies stampers off quietly following its blossom child, Clap! Clap! doesn't ease off on the strokes, eventually bringing the LP back, slowly but surely, to a glory it held early on. The final trio of songs adhere to the shtick, molding the necessary elements of Dance with the imperative artistic elegance. 'Rainbow Coast,' in under three minutes, changes patterns at breakneck speed like you wouldn't believe, ending in a land faraway from its origin. And while 'Elephant Serenade' pulls back on the cosmic sounds for Tayi Bebba's more grounded ideas, namely an elephant's trunk as heard ridiculously on 'Ashiko,' the rhythmic jam proves how enjoyable a beat can be regardless of formalities. Lastly, either after returning from her wayward journey or being left in the space dust, 'Ascension Psalm' rounds out A Thousand Skies beautifully. Bringing about relaxed impressions and atmospheric goo, the finale wonderfully employs a myriad of empty instrumentation to guide the beat-less conclusion. Praise be abound, A Thousand Skies still suffers a bit from regurgitation due to the existence of its older brother. Clap! Clap! utilizes the same brushstrokes and influence he holds dearly, limiting the chances for unabashed applause. Still though, the merging of the first and third world is too tantalizing of a journey to ignore.

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