Black Deer - Black Deer | Album Review | By Volume

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BlackDeer

Black Deer

Black Deer

A bold example of unhindered self-expression.

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Author: on November 11, 2013
7.9
Peak Oil
November 12, 2013

William Thomas Burnett is a busy man — busier than most, I daresay. With more than a handful of different monikers and projects, notably teaming up with jack-funk experimentalist Legowelt, Burnett is most renowned for releases as Willie Burns on the likes of L.I.E.S, The Trilogy Tapes and Créme Organization. Rapport like this suggests something about Burnett’s independent, even punk approach to electronic music. L.I.E.S and TTT are certainly on the tips of many tongues nowadays, along with the inevitable new and ridiculous genre tags, building on the precedents set by Dutch-via-New York imprint Créme. Interestingly, Burnett’s work towards redefining the parameters of house have been filtering out for eight years or so, existing as a veteran of sorts amidst this youthful uprising against orthodoxy – he’s even been running his own label for some years now. Spending the majority of his time looking after The Thing, a Brooklyn-based thrift store notorious for its collection of used vinyl, Burnett seems to find precious studio time far more engaging than the appeal of gigging to pay the bills like so many other producers. It shows too, as he follows up a mini-album with another long-player, under the Black Deer alias on the youthful Peak Oil imprint.

As is the case with digital releases in today’s world, loading up Black Deer betrays track lengths; “It’s Like the Way It Used to Be” clocks in at more than double any of the other songs, opening proceedings with an unapologetic sixteen-minute span. It turns out to simply be a surface representation of how the track differs most from its neighbours. Sprawling and screaming, it tears through themes unkempt and untamed as to be expected, yet the poignancy of synthesised cosmic beacons are a gentle reawakening for stubborn ears. Such freewheeling chord progressions over the bubbling foundation tell stories more than they hum tunes as the track becomes an epic in its own right. The clouds are lined with grey, however, as this is a one-off as opposed to a trend, though that’s not to say the rest of the record disappoints at all. Turn away from the introspective notwithstanding, there’s still plenty to be fascinated by.

The brash and ballsy way Burnett implements his ideas are to be lauded, ensnaring before there’s any chance to resist. Take “New Break”, which begins with a bar of tribal drumming before bass guitar grooves in, then disappears as conspicuously as it entered. Fluttering analogue synths lead the percussion and it’s as simple as that — not really a song, though not quite club-oriented dance floor material. Tracks don’t stand still; however, they don’t go anywhere in particular either. Sometimes, it’s nice to cruise and ride it out, like on the ambling “First of September” which is only ever directed by one melody at a time as it skips along.

For the most part, Black Deer is a build up to something. Fortunately, it’s as if the music is constantly moving in a positive direction that rarely disappoints the listeners with a climax. On the other hand, it also leaves panging unfulfillment, overshadowed by the best moments though never quite eradicated. I’m sure such is the intent for “Rambling Rumble Stone”, its prognostic and perhaps foreboding echoes teasing with its musings quite explicitly, although it feels as if the rest of the record leads listeners on unintentionally. There’s thrill in the chase of course, a highlight being on “Holiday”, where things are taken to the deeper end of the pool. Tingling and chiming percussion work counter-intuitively to harden the edge of the chord stabs, spiced with the smallest pinch of jack. It’s probably the first track that would slot comfortably in a peak-time set, for more traditional genre-focused gigs as well as ones as characteristically open as Burnett’s scene is.

While the opener is the only narrative in itself on the record, “Strike 3” needs to be implemented as a soundtrack somewhere. There’s a magnificent flurry of ideas going on, everything from the swan-song keys to the kicks that are rinsed over with shuffling snares, all coalescing through chaos into serenity, as fireworks would gracefully hold their dismount after the explosion. It’s a fine way to end a really good adventure of an album. Black Deer is a damn good record at that, though it doesn’t quite work as one would hope. It’s not the lack of cohesion, it’s more an absence of reason and direction stringing the tracks together. Though it doesn’t work as an album as such, it doesn’t quite fit the compilation mold either, existing outside of these formats for music consumption. That’s not a problem, at least not until listeners begin to feel alienated by the suspicion that the record is holding something back from the ears. Despite that, what Burnett has actually done on Black Deer is nothing short of enjoyable and impressive, with highlights for everyone to be found as it brazenly boasts the achievements of independence, vision and daring self-expression.

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