Album Reviews

Sun Araw – Belomancie

(Drag City) UK release date: 17 February 2014

Sun Araw - BelomancieEver since his first album released under the Sun Araw name back in 2008 there’s always been a mildly paradoxical quality to the output of California-based musician Cameron Stallones. Each of his albums seems to offer a small scale musical reinvention of sorts while simultaneously managing to uphold some deeper artistic principles.

Belomancie is the 10th Sun Araw album in six years (11th if you include his 2012 collaboration with M Geddes Gengras & The Congos). It offers proof of his prolific nature and restless creativity, yet in places also displays signs of possible over-extension. There’s a strong sense of experimentation and present on Belomancie, but the results are patchy and inconsistent.

It is his most overtly electronic album to date, almost as if he has exported some of the key traits of his previous works on to a synthetic canvas. It’s immediately apparent on the elongated tones dispersed on obtuse opener Scrim. Guitar-funk squiggles are added and grow more erratic as the track unfurls. It just about falls on the right side of self-indulgence, but it’s a close call. The sound is thinned out on Curt, proving that Belomancie is a far less dense offering than some of his earlier albums. The layers have been peeled back but there’s a lingering suspicion that it may be at some greater expense.

Huff meanwhile introduces arguably the least successful aspect of the album, namely Stallones’ vocals. On his albums to date these have usually resided deep and semi-distorted within the swampy expanse but here they sit far higher and more isolated in the mix and on the whole don’t particularly work well. They reach an uncomfortable, misfiring peak on One After One and Solo Wallet Shuffle, veering close to overweight rock posturing that doesn’t suit him well. When he sings on the latter “I’ve got a weekend and I’m gonna snap back” it sounds unnecessarily forced and suggests a lack of self-editing.

It’s a shame as there’s still plenty here to admire and enjoy. Musically, both tracks have fresh, pleasing things going on under the surface and the later stages of the album feature more in the way of better-realised tracks. On this evidence it’s clear to see Stallones is still capable of leading his sound in interesting directions, throwing up surprises and opening new doors along the way.

The gauzy electronic sounds of Remedial Ventilation seem to replicate the natural world, albeit informed by a sense of subtle, dubby psychedelia that recalls On Patrol, arguably his finest album to date. Earlier, the title track achieves a similar feel, reconciling the sound of birdsong and field recordings with trumpeting synths and decorative flute.

Later Flote exhibits a similar spaciousness, and generously viewed, the electronic pulses and coded ripples suggesting some form of rudimentary, non-human form of communication. The listener is lured in unsuspectingly and immersed progressively deeper. The earlier deficiencies of the album seem a world away. Album closer Seven Lampstands ensures the strong final run continues as guitars, synths and clicks converge to form something that wouldn’t sound out of place on Warp (with Stallones’ vocals also being subsumed more successfully).

There’s no avoiding the fact that Belomancie is a challenging album, both in a positive and negative sense. It is also the sound of Stallones challenging himself, possibly more than he’s ever done before. It may be enigmatic, uneven and flawed in places but at the same time it proves that he is still a single-minded sonic adventurer worth persevering with.

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