Whether most artists realize it or, the environment you find yourself in can have a massive impact on your creative work. Whether its crafting tunes inside a shabby, beaten-up apartment in the dead of winter, or doing vocal takes after cocktail-and-hammock time by the beach, whatever you’re experiencing outside of your craft will likely wriggle its flavour into the mix. Electronic artist Konx-om-Pax (a.k.a. Tom Scholefield) knows this quite well. As he explains in a press release, his 2012 debut offering, Regional Surrealism, was written while living in a Glaswegian flat in a town centre “surrounded by concrete and junkies.” While the record had its moments of beauty, it also trafficked in some bleak beatscaping.
Fast forward four years, and Konx-om-Pax has just dripped out a sophomore follow-up: Caramel. While song sketches began as far back 2012, much of the collection was conceived after touring the world and moving beside a green-grassed park. While songs like “Mega Glacial” are still mired in sub zero synth work, the overall feel of the electronic outing is as warming as the morning glow.
“Video Club” is a powerfully blissed-out beginning to the 14-song set. One of the many, basically beat-less pieces on the LP, it begins with a slight tape hiss, as if its lush keyboard melodies were nabbed by recording an old ’80s movie score with a boombox.”Last Jam Forever” likewise reveals that Konx-om-Pax has a thing for feathery, vintage synth tones, with the fantasy-style melodies eventually being backed by massively slow-rocked digital drum work.
Scholefield noted that his latest set was inspired by ambient auteurs like Boards of Canada, but also by listening to early rave tapes. The artist may be too young to have experienced the scene firsthand, but he captures some of that old-style club magic on Caramel, albeit a bit differently.
Though tracks like “Stay” incorporate twitchy, near-garage type digi-snare, the bulk of Caramel eschews a direct percussiveness. As he explains it: “Some of the tracks are like photocopies of photocopies of rave tracks, where the drums have dissolved and it’s just the melodies that have survived.”
This is definitely the case on cuts like “Beatrice’s Visit,” a highlight which’s jumpy, staccato key-bass stabs guide you more than well enough without a steady four-on-the-floor hammering down the ones-and-twos. On the exquisite “Oren’s Theme,” you can just barely hear a female-sung you’d imagine would’ve dominated a crossover house-pop hit circa ’90. And then there’s “Caramel,” a positively damaging well of synth-styled symphonics that should get the hips swaying, even despite its drum-less flow.
That said, Konx-om-Pax still manages to have fun with thwapped beats. While a bit joyless in light of the surrounding material, “Perc Rave” busts out an impressively heavy round of seemingly oil drum-driven beats. Much better is “Manhunter,” which mixes an oscillating and ultra melodious, Steve Reich-like marimba with a damned decadent and house-collapsing kick drum pattern.
The finest moments of Caramel are still its most open-ended. Penultimate tapestry “At the Lake” is a smooth cruise through a sea of sound. As if tailor-made for an electronic music-favouring fisherman, its undulating background drones are meditative and calm-inducing, while its busy counter melody reels you into alertness, so you don’t fall asleep before your line gets that first bite.
“Rainbow Bounce” is a pleasing finale of sine waves and string sounds. It’s unclear whether Konx-om-Pax composed this at home or while taking in an awe-inspiring arc-en-ciel on a road trip. If you’re feeling a bit cooped up in your concrete cube, just close your eyes and lets its multi-coloured glory wash over you.
-review by Gregory Adams