Lauren Bousfield – Avalon Vales (2013)


The new year is upon us at last, and with it HearFeel’s second birthday. But it’s not quite that time yet, and to finally break the dry spell we have the debut from Lauren Bousfield with the eclectic Avalon Vales.

It’s hard to talk about an album you’re obsessed with but for reasons you can’t fully explain or justify. Some albums just capture me in a specific way, get me off-guard at the right time and I just fall in love. Avalon Vales is not a conventional album and I didn’t expect myself to grow to love it as much as I do, but here we are. Toeing the line somewhere between Glitch, IDM, Breakcore and Modern Classical, it’s certainly an ambitious and heavy genre set, and somehow it all comes together.

“Fire Sale”‘s warped and reversed electronica growls and bends explosively into view. It’s spastic and insane, but touches on something that feels so familiar yet so alien, like some piece of classical music we’ve loved but seen twisted into destruction. “Riverrun Humbling Allegory” allows us to see the bigger picture with syncopated drum machines and stuttering glitch fragments, but carving for itself a relatively consistent and followable melody, and it’s more akin to what’s to follow, while one of my favourites “Avalon Sliding Down The Cliff” still seems to be holding onto a more IDM rooted sound but entrenches the grooves just a little further with its mashed vocals and thick, wet synth basslines.

“No More Worlds Like This” finally gives us a taste of the piano we’ve all been yearning for, and it’s quite the juxtaposition; the beautiful solo introduction spills into a track that doesn’t know where to hold itself, like some kind of bastardised orchestral piece with its haunting choral vocals mixed with ferocious organ-like synth riffs and screaming noise smears. It’s intoxicating. Couple this with the Breakcore monster “Cracknight” and you’ve got a set of haunting tracks but for different reasons. Repetitive lyrics sandblasted under a veneer of noise accompany those monstrously abused pianos once more in something that could almost be called Dark Wave. It’s so abrasive and powerfully driven it’s difficult to not get dragged under its bleak surface.

“Valed” turns around to tell us there’s still some innocence left in the album as it abandons the electronic horrors to return to the piano and naive female vocals. But it’s hasty and rushed, still propelled forwards rapidly as it runs from the abusing tide of digital knobs and dials. “Lipstick Smeared Over The Amaretto” is another stunner as it continues that hasty female lead style with vastly reverbed synths and impatient pianos, the words lost under a sea of instrumentation. The relative intimacy of the two previous tracks takes a turn as the starker electronic returns in the aptly titled “Cascading Retail Spaces” in its flurry of chopped and screwed voices and sharp details.

The points where the album is perhaps the weirdest are the points I love it the most; “Audkyrie” follows in a vein similar to stunner “Valed” with its melted vocals and insanely twisted synth lines but it takes it to the next level as it piles vast texture on top of texture, crushing whatever existed of the original instrumentation into the digital void on its journey to maximalist perfection. And it only gets bigger with longest track of the album “Somerset Blather On and On” at a meagre 5 minutes that ebbs and flows, flooding the senses in pulses of rapidfire beats but also subduing them in lulls of fuzzed drone, but it rarely stands still for long.

The closing tracks of the album still seem to be determined to drive us away; even in the softly titled “Heavening”, where we have the greatest array of vocals we’ve seen thus far, Bousfield still maintains a level of disconnection by obscuring their meaning as they lap onto one another amidst a daunting piano overture, pushing them further back into their shadow. Lastly, closer “Our Trauma” has to be something to close the album on a bang and it certainly does deliver. Crushing pulses of skittering synths, wails of dense reverb and the wobbles of 808s drive a piece that sounds every bit as broken and distraught as its namesake. It’s fucking enormous to put it bluntly, and it’s astonishing when that “chorus” drives home those danceable beats.

Avalon Vales is an experience alright. It never lets up but it never gets to the point where it’s overwhelming, and it’s never predictable. Even after as many listens as I’ve subjected it through I’m still finding new parts to crush me or get me in the groove, it’s still surprising and still dynamic. There’s something so brilliant in the construction and production of every track, like an orchestral or classical masterpiece skewed into reckless digital oblivion, that makes it so deeply compelling. A must listen.