Canada has always been a good place to be for electronic music production but lately, thanks in no small way to Caribou, its profile has elevated still further. It would seem to be a good time, then, for Toronto duo Art Department to venture back with their second album.
Their first record The Drawing Board impressed with its downbeat emotion and a minimal yet focussed approach. Then, earlier in 2014, they showed their aptitude for mixing and track selection in an excellent compilation to mark Mexico’s ten-day BPM festival. So why is Natural Selection ultimately unsatisfying?
As the album progresses a weary shadow falls over the music. The dark instrumental colours are present and correct once again, but here there is little underlying sense of energy, drive or even great inspiration. Instead there is a kind of lethargy you might associate with being tired but not even being able to move to go to bed.
The Agent is a case in point. Everything should work here – the scattered rhythm, the spacey backing, the slightly unusual kick drum sound, and even the vocal, a kind of broadcast to the mind that should soothe the fevered late night brow. It is a standard stream of consciousness – “I feel that I am merely an agent…giving you some keys which have been given to me to pass on to you. These keys are to unlock doors, out of your present prism”. It could work, but the words here are so slowly delivered, their content over familiar, that the listener can quickly lose interest.
The guest vocal slots occupy the same territory. Aquarius Heaven promises Kisses For Roses over a cooked meal and a subterranean bass sound but the rhythm itself is lumpen and unappealing, the entreaty “if you gave me kisses I would give you roses, I would do the cooking” failing to satisfy the appetite.
Seth Troxler’s contribution to Cruel Intentions is equally uninspiring, and a track that has commendable menace in its instrumental writing falls flat at the vocal stage. Romanthony has done this sort of thing far better in the past. Crazy is another track that begins promisingly but again after a promising riff it fizzles out, feeling tired and distinctly un-mad.
While there is nothing here to relegate Art Department to the role of also-rans, there is nothing to get wholly excited about either, as the music consistently retreats towards the background. It is to be hoped that Natural Selection is a blip on the radar, and that this duo’s promising musical journey will pick up again at its next stop.