After a string of releases, which have established and refined Maribou State’s very particular brand of electronica, the duo has finally delivered their debut album Portraits. Far from the typical compositional and recording processes of today’s electronic producers, that have become almost exclusively reliant upon computer-generated sound, Maribou State (Chris Davids and Liam Ivory) craft music with a tangible organic nature. Incorporating live recording and songcraft at their rural studio, the Hertfordshire-bred pair creates softly-spoken music with a natural warmth and contentedness that is often missing from contemporary electronica.
Marrying ringing guitar with their distinctive deconstructed vocal samples, and scattered with shimmering synths, opener Home immediately reveals a very human feel central to the album. Home instantly envelopes the listener with that simple sense of contentment that is at once comfortably and euphoric, reminiscent of a Sunday night bonfire or the road trip to get there. Replacing guitar licks with resonant keys, The Clown (featuring the talents of long-time collaborator Pedestrian) delivers sophisticated layering that completely lends itself to exultant remixing.
Interesting textures and partitions define the cacophonic Rituals, whose distorted vocal line fluctuates between unintelligible intonation and rhythmic chant. The first of two tracks to officially feature London-based musician Holly Walker, Steal is the first track to feature a comprehensible vocal line. With Walker’s beautiful delivery taking the lead, the soundscape texturally ebbs and flows, generating a mood that wavers between disaffected and impassioned melancholy. The brooding tranquillity of much of the first half of Portraits is interrupted by Wallflower, whose anxious opening trickles into a deluge of fervent swells and dissonant synths.
Perhaps one of the LP’s most affecting tracks, Say More is a moody haze of Jono McCleery’s striking, velvety vocals, stunning moments of falsetto, and wailing synths, buoyed by captivating beats that one can only describe with the generic “tribal” tag. Closer Varkala also leaves a more lasting impression. Its atmospheric soundscape, punctuated by oscillating keys, weeping cello and striking melismatic vocal passages (courtesy of Walker), creates that sense of timelessness associated with complete serenity and contentment until its crackling climax abruptly ends the album.
There is something almost unfinished about Portraits’ final track that intelligently leaves the pair’s sound open to further exploration. While much of the album sails by without leaving an assertive, in-your-face impression, Portraits’ subtle nuances, clever amalgamation of organic and computerised songcraft techniques, and overwhelming humanness creates the perfect music to accompany those genuinely beautiful moments of escape without defining them.