Canon Blue – ‘Colonies’

July 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Published: The Vine, July 17, 2008.

Canon Blue
(Sensory Projects/Inertia)

Colonies is very much a record of our time. It is the first from Nashville songwriter, singer and bedroom producer Daniel James – aka Canon Blue – and it engenders the wonderful dichotomies of the contemporary cultural and technological epoch.

Echoing with both acoustics and electronics, folk-based song-structure and software-aided abstraction, this is a record of intimate scale and vast sonic scope; of antiquated instruments and shiny new laptops. Over 11 plaintive tracks (the Australian edition comes with four extra cuts from a previous EP) James seamlessly merges hooky, minor-key folk-pop with subtly complex and layered electronic arrangements – his soft-focus, high-register vocal inflection a stunning constant throughout.

There are several highlights, each riddle with James’ non-linear lyrical meanderings. “Nothin’ ever feels right when you got a knife in the back of your head,” he croons on the anthemic ‘Odds and Ends’. But you get the feeling that James’ song-craft has yet to reach its full potential at a bare-bones level. The melodies and motifs – composed entirely on his grandmother’s upright piano, apparently written at a time of great tragedy – are strong, but perhaps a little less than memorable than you’d hope.

It’s the arrangements that really give this record its strength. The stuttering beats, twinkling piano and angelic, Thom Yorke-esque falsetto of opener ‘Tree House’, the sticky beats and twittering rhythmic underlays of ‘Mother Tongue’, and the shambolic Modest Mouse-isms of the rambling ‘Battle Hymn’ each make for fine moments.

The frill-less sturdiness of James’ song writing vision aside, what makes Colonies so effective is its constant eschewal of mode and palette. Folkie meanderings are swallowed into swathes of textural ambience; plonking piano keys are lost to storms of white noise; densely layered arrangement splay out into spacious space-pop.

It is a record lost in the abstraction between the intimate and the endless – the organic and the synthesised – and as such, it feels a vital and uniquely contemporary debut.

Dan Rule


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