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Walls - Coracle

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Artist: Walls

Album: Coracle

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Oct. 6, 2011

Walls - "Sunporch" (Coracle)

The artwork for British duo Walls’ second album is pretty apt, the hazy pink cloud a fitting visual accompaniment to the delicate, floating and vaguely intangible music contained within. At first listen, Coracle feels like something of a left-field choice for Kompakt, a label once almost entirely associated with minimal techno. Where that micro-genre can seem cold and robotic, the music of Walls overflows with warm synth lines, delicate ambient passages and blissed-out melodies.

Despite all that, Coracle still works on the dancefloor, especially when compared to Alessio Natalizia and Sam Willis’s self-titled debut. Infectious opener "Into Our Midst" leads off with an insistent beat, bouncy synths and cheerful sampled vocals. It glances backward towards the techno’s birth in Detroit, as well as to ’90s house and trance, but the duo is too canny to wallow in banal genre exercises or simplistic photocopying of past ideas. As such, the track’s conclusion is fascinating, as the beats and hooks dissolve into an inchoate mulch of crisscrossing melodies and sounds before segueing into the guitar-led opening bars of "Heat Haze."

Elsewhere, the ponderous ambient style of Brian Eno dominates, more specifically his collaborations with German kosmische greats Cluster and Harmonia, on which the Teutons added a more rhythmic backbone to his drifting synth explorations. The insistent beats on "Sunporch" and "Raw Umber/Twilight" are counter-balanced by subdued guitar and synth patterns that sound at odds with the uptempo rhythms without sounding out of place. Neat trick. "Il Tedesco," in particular, is a constant surprise, with crackling electronica segueing into muffled four-to-the-floor dance before fading into near-silence. Elsewhere, tracks like "Vacant" and "Ecstatic Truth" are much closer to the ambient tradition of Another Green World and flirt dangerously with excessive nostalgia, the latter though being rescued by some nifty sub-aquatic guitar and minimalist percussion.

If Coracle has a flaw, it’s that Walls’ constant shifting between "thoughtful" dance and Eno-esque ambient occasionally sounds unfocused. It’s great that Natalizia and Willis are playing with the boundaries of genre, but the experiments feel overly cautious, leaving the album full of pleasantries and devoid of punch.

By Joseph Burnett

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