12.05.2010, Words by Charlie Jones


Comprised of DJ/producer Sam Willis (of premier league blog Allez Allez) and Alessio Natalizia (of Banjo or Freakout), WALLS arose after the former remixed the latter’s Mr. No to mesmerising effect. Thankfully rather than just chalking this up as one in the win column and moving on, the pair began to collaborate further, exploring just where the combination of Natalizia’s guitar and Willis’ synths and samples could take them.

The result is one of the best electronic albums released so far this year as Willis’ gritty, granulated soundscapes and crystalline melodies offer the perfect background for his partner’s sparse guitar to effortlessly glide over. Walking a fine line between the austere experimentalism of Autechre and the sometimes cloying niceness of Ulrich Schnauss, the contrast between the album’s dark and light moments is perfectly balanced.

Unlike many ambient/electronic albums, it doesn’t hang around either, its eight tracks barely stretching to 30 minutes but from the opening track, Burnt Sienna, this is an album that thoroughly immerses the listener. Time and time again great washes of synthesisers build layer upon layer and then just as the mass of sound threatens to become overwhelming its stygian depths are illuminated with sparkling weightless melodies.

Best enjoyed lying down in a dark room, only once, on Gaberdine, is the tempo raised to anything near dancefloor friendly but even then the tracks insistent four-four beat is shrouded by airy pads and Natalizia’s wordless chants. It too soon disintegrates, giving way to the eerie, treated vocals of the album’s coda, Austerlitz Wide Open.

As you’d expect from a band, one half of whom has spent much of the past few years writing about and curating other artists, this is an album that often seems to reference those who have gone before. From Hang Four’s cross pollination of Fennesz and the laid-back Balearic Disco of Sorcerer, to the glacial steady pulse of Vangelis channelling Cyclopean Remains and Soft Cover People’s echoes of The KLF’s ‘Chill Out’, Walls walks in the footsteps of its forebears. But importantly, while it clearly acknowledges its influences, it also ultimately transcends them.

Dreamlike and fantastical, the album’s amorphous textures remain tantalisingly out of reach and the more you try to focus on them, the more they blur. With the ambient scene currently undergoing quite a renaissance and a new generation of producers appearing (Blondes, Radiant Dragon) whose influences stretch from the usual (Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada) to include more recent psychedelic outings from the likes of Animal Collective, Walls’ debut has set the bar high for those sure to follow this year.


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