Ex Confusion – With Love (2013)

I originally was going to describe Ex Confusion’s sophomore LP as being something that follows up the swathes of other artists who also tread in the revered footsteps of artists like Stars of the Lid and Explosions in the Sky, and while this is true in some ways, Ex Confusion’s bleary drone sequences are also paired with acoustic sequences with a minimalism and intimacy that the former artists have never really displayed in their work.

Putting pen to paper and trying to describe what it is that Ex Confusion are creating with this release is troublesome; opener “All Alright” introduces a sound that we are about to become rather familiar with over the course of the album, spinning clouds of carefully looped guitar drone for an impossibly long 3 minutes, its paralysing waves of fragile melody pulsating effortlessly and seemingly stretching on forever, continuing to play even as they fade to black. Followup “Two Things” decides to take a more acoustic route, replacing the bleary soft drones with slow, considerate guitar work. Quiet vocals float in the backfield, barely there, whispering sweet nothings in this intimate solo.

“Come Find Me” temporarily puts this lovesick sound to the wayside for a brief moment, its tense airs and drones wavering and uncomfortable, a barely restrained anxiety suppressed by placid layers of calm drone give this track a really great balance as it seesaws carefully between fear and excitement, albeit in a very restrained and introspective way. The acoustic elements are maintained once more in “On Your Side” with creeping guitars riffs above shimmering clouds of fluffy drone just to give the track a little extra boost. I’m very strongly reminded of Sad Souls Apeiron album at this point, which is a lovely little Bandcamp release with a very similar sonic style.

But just when I’m about to be proven wrong, “What It Means To Me” creeps into the mix in true SotL style, summoning a fragile and fraught sound, ushered in with glacial drones and once again fragments of whisper quiet vocals to round it all off. Its delicate looped sequence once again defies belief, managing to be spun out for nearly 4 minutes and warping time in the process, before the heartwrenching drones finally melt away to a careful and brief silence at the very end. And in the spirit of keeping the album balanced and ensuring it keeps its acoustic quota high, it is once more juxtaposed against the new piano of “With Love”, a distal and simplistic solo performance bathed in reverb and a low-fidelity fuzz. “Days” comes in as a brief and forgettable interlude before we move into the nostalgic and lovely “Old Portrait”, with its breathes of faint static washes, distal piano strokes and obfuscating drone. It’s definitely a piece that demands a close listen, and it highlights the fact that a lot of the other tracks of the album also have a lot of quiet and far removed elements that pad the them out in their own quiet way.

This wistful attitude is kept flowing through “Letters That You Keep” as it ebbs and flows as the contents of some nearly forgotten drawer are rifled through, snippets of memories from a time passed brought to the surface again, but it just isnt allowed to keep going, which is a shame because it’s one of the nicer tracks. “For Memories” doesn’t do anything new but keeps that delicate minimalism alive as it continues to propagate this yearning and sad sound from the mid-album before finally tumbling into the more interesting piano led “Only An Angel”. The drone sequences are beautiful and all but it can get difficult to stomach for the length of time that triplet kept going, it’s nice to have a bit of meat back in the album with this, the longest track. The obviousness of loss is amplified here as the gulf between the down to earth but distal piano and shining drone is increased; it’s hard to make two sounds that work within the same space sound distant but it’s pulled off beautifully here and it’s clear that Ex Confusion’s is taking it quite hard. It’s repetitious and barely evolving but it’s lovely.

So if the elements of the previous track were about separation and loss then “Closer” is quite the opposite, evoking a warm and carefree vibe; the drone is still slow and considerate and it’s hard to describe how it can be uplifting but there’s a warmth and release here that oozes from every inch of the track. It’s possibly the most openly happy and welcoming piece of the album and I can’t describe how pleasant it is. Finally, closer “As We Are” embraces the separation and comes to terms with the absence as it leads us out on very final and determined piano.

It’s been hard to really pick up the ball this week in terms of reviews, especially after the spate of excellent recent releases. With Love is perhaps not the album that I was quite looking for to follow on from them, but its nostalgic and sad but ultimately self-resolving and compromising sound reflect a beautiful journey through degrees of separation (not necessarily death but it’s strongly hinted towards), expressed through delicate swathes of drone and piano.