Available on: Planet Mu LP

Swirling, hazy, woozy: that standard roll call of adjectives associated with the blurrier corners of the modern musical spectrum still seems almost impossible to avoid. That was especially the case in 2010, with the emergence of that clumsily-termed lo-fi phenomenon chillwave, and a time when one could scarcely read a review of anything without them surfacing somewhere along the way. Among your Neon Indians, Washed Outs and Memory Tapes came a British equivalent; set apart from the more “indie”-centered tendencies of their American forebears, artists like Chris ‘Tropics’ Ward seemed less concerned with the formation of a gimmicky aesthetic, instead offering a more clear-cut take on sun-bleached nostalgia songs.

Soft Vision, Ward’s 2010 debut EP for Planet Mu, wasn’t wholly stunning but represented a firmer than usual highlight in the canon’s particularly wispy output. Sonically it seems little has changed in Ward’s approach, as his full album, Parodia Flare, shares the same vaporous strains as employed in his initial material.

Ward has doubtless progressed in his arrangements, and Parodia Flare sounds like the efforts of an entire band compared to the bedroom producer tropes that speckled his initial offerings. Offering more fleshed-out drums, stray guitars and melodies more advanced than the usual reverb-soaked synthesizer lines, the album should be celebrated for its nuances, complexities and attention to detail; the subtle clack chimes during ‘On The Move’ and the interweaving of guitar and keys through ‘Playgrounds’ carry the hallmarks of a producer successfully fleshing out the ideas in his head. The problem here however, is that Parodia Flare carries so many ideas, and so many slight variations of woozy techniques, that it becomes near impossible to find any structure beneath them.

Parodia Flare is as lost in daydreams as its stoned, student psych-artwork implies. Admittedly it manages to avoid the nagging sense of artistic posturing that plagues similar American artists, but still only manages to drift, often shapeless in a sea of breathy vocals and airy pads; the driving rhythms that made moments like Soft Vision‘s title track memorable seem lacking, surfacing only momentarily on ‘Telessar’ before the album slips back into the ether. With little demonstration of this previously-established firmness of touch, Parodia Flare often fails to engage, moments of interest intermittently emerging from the fog before disappearing back into an album that too often opts for vague evocation over genuine direction.

Mike Coleman



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