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Andrew Paine - Blue Fires

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Artist: Andrew Paine

Album: Blue Fires

Label: Sonic Oyster

Review date: Jul. 9, 2007

This we know: Texture is the new melody. Scotland’s minimal folkies have been exploring the relationship between the two for years, as interest stateside has shifted from one to the other. For a while, textural and melodic minimalism were two separate threads, though often they were explored by the same musicians. Richard Youngs plumbed the depths of melody on May by stripping song structure bare, then turned around two years later for River Through the Howling Sky where he mined the tone of a few electric guitar chords.

In the midst of this, Youngs and his many collaborators have explored texture and melody at once, yielding albums (Youngs’s Airs of the Ear, for instance) that are spiritual in their maximalism. This is where Andrew Paine’s lovely Blue Fires fits into the spectrum. Paine comes not to bury New Age, but to save it.

Blue Fires begins with “Apple Trees Heavy,” a presentation of the textures of the keys, guitars and feedback that Paine will continue to explore as the album progresses, but it yields in “Spiritual Shepherds” to a layering of melodic synthesizer lines that pile up into a different type of density. A friend, credited only as “Rhiannon,” lends choral vocals to “Tartarus1,” which Paine overlays so that we hear her singing both a note and its harmonic at once; at the same time, he mimics the effect on electric guitar. This North Sea yodeling effect is such a cliché in genre music, but its gorgeousness, as fully explored here, exposes all the artists who previously used it as mere pretenders.

Paine uses a Youngsian sung mantra as the backbone of “Wavesarefalling,” but he loops it in emulation of the rhythm of crashing waves while backing it with simulated waveform static and church bells. It doesn’t sound like a twee wave-themed amuse bouche, thank god, and it is Paine’s ability to push ideas further and further in the service of aesthetics (rather than the other way around) that makes Blue Fires crucial listening.

By Josie Clowney

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