October 28, 2021

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Leon Vynehall: Rare, Forever Album Review


Leon Vynehall loves a good story. Back in 2014, the UK artist’s breakthrough mini-LP, Music for the Uninvited, was rooted in childhood memories of the mixtapes his mother used to play in the car, while 2016’s Rojus drew parallels between a night of partying and the mating rituals of tropical birds. Two years later, he went fully conceptual with Nothing Is Still, a beautiful album that folded in elements of ambient and classical while recounting the tale of his grandparents’ emigration to New York in the 1960s. The self-described “multimedia experience” also included a series of short films and a novella.

His latest full-length takes a notably different path. Rare, Forever has no grand narrative or elaborate backstory. Speaking about the album, Vynehall has said, “I wanted to write purely from the standpoint of free expression: whatever came to me is what I’d go with.” Yet Rare, Forever isn’t some sort of rudderless mish-mash. After a decade in electronic music, Vynehall sounds more confident than ever before, and while a few Easter eggs—including an ouroboros-like sigil and a mysterious character/entity named Velvet—have been scattered across the new LP and its artwork, the record is primarily a potent showcase of his talents.

Rare, Forever opens with the forlorn strings of “Ecce! Ego!,” signaling that the orchestral pomp of Nothing Is Still hasn’t been discarded completely, but as the record unfolds, it quickly becomes clear that the LP’s contents owe a lot more to smoky jazz clubs and noisy DIY spaces than the symphony hall. With its lush strings, “Farewell! Magnus Gabbro” is perhaps the most “classical” track on the album, but the song’s hovering distortion and elongated tones sound more like something a William Basinski/Kevin Shields collab might have cooked up. Vynehall happily dirties up his sound across Rare, Forever, and while the record won’t ever be mistaken for a Hospital Productions release, it does contain tracks like “In>Pin,” which runs a disjointed spoken-word collage through a labyrinth of angular skronk, and “Worm (& Closer & Closer),” a poignantly scratchy, gravel-voiced update on UK street soul. “Alichea Vella Amor” continues down this soulful path, pairing tape hiss and a hypnotic vocal loop with searching saxophones, and moody album closer “All I See You, Velvet Brown” is even jazzier, its late-night horns eventually giving way to a textured bath of haunted static and thoughtful prose (borrowed from poet Will Ritson’s “Harbouring”).

Despite these forays beyond the confines of the club, Vynehall has always had a knack for crafting tastefully anthemic house music, and his latest album is bound to be celebrated as his return to the dancefloor. The lively “Snakeskin ∞ Has-Been” is sharper and darker than old favorites like “It’s Just (House of Dupree)” and “Blush,” but the song’s whirring rhythms have obvious big-room appeal. The manically chirping “Dumbo” is even heavier, with burly rhythms that nod to both the contemporary hard-drum circuit and the carnivalesque spirit of old UK funky bangers like Roska’s “Squark.” But it’s “Mothra” that provides the LP’s most obvious hands-in-the-air moment: A little more than halfway through, the track goes practically silent, drops a dramatic vocal snippet, and then swings back into its confident strut. It’s a trick right out of the post-dubstep playbook that brings to mind Joy Orbison’s most gratifying work.

Even without any overarching narrative, Rare, Forever still feels like a triumph. At its core, the LP is a straight-up flex, the work of an artist who has learned to distill his many influences and experiments into a coherent, singular vision, and Vynehall himself is the protagonist of this particular tale. (It’s telling that he opens the record with “Ecce! Ego!,” which literally means “Behold! Me!” in Latin.) There are few producers in the electronic music realm who can capably translate the “here’s some tracks I made” approach into a compelling album—folks like Floating Points and Four Tet come to mind—and it appears that Vynehall is ready to be welcomed into that cohort, perhaps with glorious album centerpiece “An Exhale” as his coronation theme. Combining the beatless trance of artists like Barker with the woozy melodies of M83, it’s both jubilant and pensive, like looking out at nature’s expanse after trekking up a mountain. After making his own proverbial climb in recent years, Vynehall can rightly sit back and take in the view.


Buy: Rough Trade

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