Beatrice Dillon: Workaround (LP, PAN, February 2020)

First proper post of 2020. I know, right, what am I like? I actually don’t think I heard anything that came out in January that I liked enough to buy; I ordered this in February, it didn’t arrive until early March; and then… for a while there, blogging felt kind of weird, what with, you know. But, hey, life goes on, so here goes.

I’ll start with a confession. The first couple of times I heard this, I wasn’t wild about it. It was only because I kept running into rave reviews of it, everywhere from Resident Advisor to the Guardian, that I persisted. About listen number three, something clicked. And now I love it. Yay.

So, where are we? Everything is centred around the rhythm. Dillon’s drum machines spit out a kind of glitchy, sputtering, highly abstracted techno, with touches of two-step and dancehall and African genres, rattling along at a lively 150 bpm. There’s live percussion in there, too, including guest musicians on instruments from India (dholak, tabla), Egypt (darabukka), and Ireland (bodhrán). There are bits and bobs of melody, sometimes sparse and fragmented, sometimes more insistently loopy, always minimal. There are more conventional (relatively speaking) techno synth lines, scraps of neoclassical cello (from Lucy Railton), rumbles of jazzy double bass, and apparently everything from pedal steel to saxophone to the West African kora although I don’t claim to be able to pick those all out. Laurel Halo provides the album’s one vocal on the second track, although it’s kind of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it thing. There’s… there’s lot going on here.

Given all that, plus the fact that the 14 tracks clock in at an average of just about three minutes, there’s an obvious danger of the album sounding fiddly or episodic. Handily, Dillon’s production is top notch, and she crafts a highly distinctive style that allows each element to breathe while also coming together into a coherent whole. It kind of feels like one piece of music with pauses for breath. (I gather a key element of the sound comes from extensive use of gated reverb. Which I would have thought was an effect more associated with Phil Collins than bleeding-edge electronic artists. I need hardly say that this stuff is a very long way from ’80s AOR retro.) I guess it it took me a while to calibrate my brain to dial into what is a pretty singular register, but now that I’m there I only have to hear the first bar or two of the first track to snap me right back into it. And it is a happy light rich tripping crunchy satisfying thing. So, thanks for cluing me in, professional reviewing types who aren’t 6 weeks behind the curve!

I bought this from the artist’s bandcamp page.

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