It’s amazing to think that it’s only taken Marcus Whale and Travis Cook a year to follow up on their way-outta-left-field debut, Iconography. That album was such a rich, overstuffed delight of chopped up vocals and reverberating synths that even though they allegedly compiled the whole thing via email, it seemed like it would have taken an aeon to get together. We remarked on how accomplished that album was when we lauded the single, ‘Beauman Park’ upon its release in 2011. Die Young, which dropped last wee, smooths out the edges of the interstate duo’s sound and properly announces their intentions. When critics called these guys ‘R&B’ the first time around, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me what on Earth they were talking about, but from the first ten seconds of ‘Hypothermia’, the gorgeous, Wknd-ish second single, it all starts to make perfect sense.
Somewhere at the bottom of the Internet, where original samples are slowed down 800% and played in reverse to kids who can’t turn off their laptops and sleep even though it’s 4am, Collarbones dissect their influences and piece them back together into a soulful patchwork that actually sounds really different to everyone else’s way of doing it. Equal parts Burial and Aaliyah, ‘Hypothermia’ pushes together a frantic house beat with smatterings of live cymbal and then spreads thick the ambient pads and reverberating bass. It’s hypnotic and easy to get lost in, but Collarbones aren’t interested in making things easy. Though Marcus Whale, the singer of the two, sheds the extra machinery and starts hollering for real like a whiter R. Kelly trapped in an Igloo closet, the piece still bucks and veers all over the place. There’s added-note rhythms, 2/4 bars seemingly pasted onto choruses and other little tricks that flow so well with the groove that it’s only after they’ve been pulled off that you realise you were supposed to find them uncomfortable. Die Young is chock full of this kind of icy, ‘90s hip-hop inspired longing, the difference being that the songs actually seem like songs rather than clever ideas put together for the sake of it. Sure, a lot of the sound sources are still taken from god knows where and implanted in their right place, but they’re more considered and frankly, more beautiful. There’s a more sophisticated beat-making working on ‘Hypothermia’ that’s a nod the duo’s favourite game; namely, how many different ways they can layer a synth before shattering it into pieces. Above the humming and shuddering soars Whale’s voice, allowed more proper breathing space here than he had on the entire last album. That’s probably the best surprise of all.
What continues to impress me about Collarbones is that they’ve managed to collage a whole bunch of inhuman elements and make it surprisingly human. ‘Hypothermia’ is essentially an anti-love song; the vital elements are hidden way beyond the surface in the same way that the core sentiment is disguised by layers of noise on a My Bloody Valentine song. Hip kids often get really worked up about how tracks like this are like the ultimate replacement for Timbaland and TLC or whatever, which is obviously some sort of joke that we’re not in on. But if two suburban white guys were ever to feel on the same knee-dropping, leather-pants-wearing level that their idols of decades past did, ‘Hypothermia’ is about as close as I think they would get to ultimate homage. The simplicity of that lead synth, the vibrato on the voice and the unforgiving clattering of hi-hats; it’s definitely broken, but this sound may well fix you yet.
This post is dedicated to Life Aquatic blog. Jarred introduced us to both Collarbones and Guerre and sadly called it quits last week. We’ll miss you bro.
Collarbones ft. Guerre – ‘Hypothermia’