- A back-to-basics record that holds plenty of surprises.
- "'Mothra' is the euphoric unfurling of 'something,'" Leon Vynehall said on the announcement of his new album, Rare, Forever. That something, in scare quotes, stuck with me. Listen to the track's writhing lead, which sounds like it's trying to wiggle out of the quantized grid, and you can hear it: there's emotion, there's feeling, there's release, but of what is not exactly clear. You get the sense that there's freedom in this unstated "something," a chance for the UK producer to get back to making what originally brought him fame: lush house music. But Rare, Forever isn't exactly a dance floor record, either. The life-long hip-hop influences, the orchestral experiments, the shapeshifting rhythms and, above all, the knack for melody make it a fitful journey through techno and house, like the work of a master in flow state who can't resist moving from one idea to the next as soon as they enter his head.
After the emotional making of Nothing Is Still—a concept album about his grandparents' immigration experience written in the wake of his grandfather's death—and his delightfully all-over-the-place DJ-Kicks, Rare, Forever sees Vynehall returning to the music of records like Rojus with all the new tricks he's learned. The album begins with the loping hip-hop number "Ecce! Ego!," which should be a treat for fans still dreaming of his breakthrough record Music For The Uninvited. Vynehall sounds utterly at home in this format, the boom-bap beat and luxurious strings giving off a curious mix of contentedness and adventure.
Following the strange interlude "In>Pin," "Mothra" clicks things into place with its strange, bounding house rhythm. The LP never really looks back from there. Sure, it gets slow every once in a while, but it's never relaxed: there's always something new lurking around the corner, a strange addition (like the lovely saxophone solo in "Alichea Vella Amor") or sudden shifts, as happens on "Snakeskin ∞ Has-Been." A truly unhinged track, "Snakeskin" splits the difference between peppy UK garage and hard-edged drum & bass until it melts into an exquisite piano outro. It's like Vynehall can't help himself from making something pretty even out of the most ridiculous of compositions.
The jarring detours continue on "Dumbo," which is Leon Vynehall approximating experimental club music, built around an abrasive, strangled yelp. Or there's "Farewell! Magnus Gabbro" and its roaring jet engine sound, which is mixed down to be so eerily lifelike that every single time I've listened to it I've taken my headphones off to figure out what was making such an unholy racket. This is where Vynehall's expertise really comes in. I've heard plenty of tracks that sound like an imitation of an engine roar, but hardly has it ever sounded as realistic as it does here.
Vynehall cushions these bizarro moments with the elegant touches we expect by now, like "An Exhale," where the pads glow like golden hour light and the rhythm stays suspended in mid-air, a welcome bit of weightlessness before the next beat crashes in. There's a constant push and pull to Rare, Forever, which doesn't try to reconcile Vynehall's various impulses so much as chaotically mash them together. It's only Vynehall's ear for musicality that makes Rare, Forever as user-friendly as it is, likely to find its place among recent records by Four Tet and Bicep in terms of music that hits a sweet spot with a very wide appeal.
Listening through the twists and turns of Rare, Forever—whose unconventional structure can still surprise and delight even after your tenth or 20th playthrough—my mind kept going back to Vynehall's quote about that "something." Because no matter how neat or freaky it gets, Rare, Forever feels different than some of his more monumental releases, jagged and weird instead of emotional and epic. But in trading the conceptual framework for freedom, Vynehall taps into something else: a sense of abandon, humour and irreverence that makes it irresistible and moreish. Rare, Forever has all the hallmarks of a big, crossover dance music record, but no one's doing it quite like this.
01. Ecce! Ego!
04. Alichea Vella Amor
05. Snakeskin ∞ Has-Been
06. Worm (& Closer & Closer)
07. An Exhale
09. Farewell! Magnus Gabbro
10. All I See Is You, Velvet Brown