I realised this past week that I am an idiot. A friend of mine told me years ago that I should listen to David August but I was so preoccupied with other things that I never got around to it. And there he was being brilliant all along. I should have known really. I mean, he shares a label with Stimming for heck’s sake! And we all know how much I love him (unless you didn’t bother reading my last post, in which case, you won’t necessarily know that). David August is only in his mid-twenties. Oh, I only mention this because you really wouldn’t know listening to his first studio album, not because I begrudge him being an over-achiever at such a young age. *Ahem*
Times was released in 2013 (I’m literally behind with the times) so for those who haven’t given it much/any attention yet, I invite you to herewith.
The first track begins with a slightly distressing vocal shiver which varies in volume briefly until it is more or less drowned out by a steady wave of chiming synth lending drama, but maintaining a solemn edge. For Eternity continues this atmosphere whilst picking up the pace a little and adding affectionate vocals, already signalling that this album is a different kind of project for August compared to previous club orientated work. He eases us gently into what turns out to be quite an otherworldly, at times almost dream-like experience.
The opening of Phenomena is where I first thought of this analogy. Quiet, rhythmic sweeps like bristles on a hard surface are layered on top of sounds of someone, coughing (I think), and intervals of distant car horns. Drifting-off-to-sleep-with-your-window-open sort of noises. It continues with a jazzy saxophone component until the beat is added and a dominant twinkling chime is introduced. The guitar which joins this existing mayhem seems out of place and quite suddenly gives the track an Alice in Wonderland-esq air of anxiety and the unexpected.
Anthem is considerably more relaxing and listener-friendly. The beat has a complex but comprehensible pattern and is on the whole more satisfyingly dancey. I find the lyrics a little intrusive and annoying but I appreciate their making it a touch more human, otherwise it might still feel as alienating as the album so far. There is an excellent drop just after four minutes which provides a high point before bringing it to an end. I would be interested to see how this might fare in some form in a club setting. I’m sure he could make it work, he’s clearly quite the genius.
Consolation makes me want to dispute criticism that this album lacks playfulness. The murmuring in the background, a tune from a children’s music box, the vinyl crackle, the distant clinking of glass – all reflect how much August has invested in Times. He’s put everything he has into it, which although might be interpreted by some as resulting in a messy and disordered composition, I think the variety and experimentalism on display here is what makes it charming and incredibly interesting to listen to.
Until We Shine ties together a strong beat, both male and female vocals and slightly distorted piano riffs to form a solid track, which nevertheless doesn’t appeal to me hugely in the same way that I don’t like I don’t care about your goal that much. I mean, I don’t like the title for a start (so negative!) and I’m not terribly keen on how the lyrics continue. There is a woeful hopelessness about them which isn’t remotely uplifting. Blossom continues with a more indie-inspired beat which is so characteristically incongruous it’s almost mildly amusing.
August pulls things together a bit with Velvet, reaffirming that he is capable of producing very beautiful and accessible music with a more carefree and less earnest feel. The beat is steady and combined with a deep, structured baseline. Individual elements seem to sit alongside each other more comfortably here. Just past the mid-point, orchestral synth builds up to a good drop, which although not the most “epic” (I hate using that word) it certainly makes up for the lack of them on other tracks.
Consolation 2 sweeps away any morsel of composure we might have achieved listening to Velvet and is replaces it with the foreboding tick of a Grandfather clock, an ominous-sounding piano, and strange echoes which twirl manically off into silence. Great!
Although it seems (even more!) bizarrely out of place, I like Watch Your Step. The opening reminds me of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, and I think about that film fondly. A Mixmag feature mentioned August’s “smokey Spanish guitar riffs” and I can only assume it was the opening of this track that was being referenced. This riff (layered on top of creaking doors and footsteps, obviously) is warped steadily and by a couple of minutes in it segues into a pounding bass drum as the guitar continues to be more extremely distorted with an elastic echo until it is entirely transformed into whining synth. The progression is so gradual but so dramatic that the mid-late section is almost unrecognisable to what August began with. His ability to seamlessly return to the opening proves that he is fully aware of his method and what he wants to achieve. You go on a journey you don’t even realise you are being taken on.
So this is no cheerycheerypartyparty album, I admit. Try his EPs for that (DO listen to Instant Harmony in particular). But Times absolutely confirms his skill and potential and I very much look forward to seeing where he takes his work next. Oh, and roll on DGTL!