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La Big Vic
Actually Michael Dix , June 28th, 2011 15:15

If bands could be judged on their zeitgeisty friends, collaborators and hip credentials alone, Williamsburg residents La Big Vic would surely score higher than most. In his native Japan, Toshio Masuda (guitar, synths) was a member of a major label J-Pop boy band and has produced hip hop tracks as well as music for soundtracks and commercials; Peter Pearson (synths) works as an apprentice to Pink Floyd's in-house tech expert Jeff Blenkinsopp at New York's renowned EARS studio, while Emilie Friedlander (vocals, violin) runs and co-edits the Visitation Rites blog and Pitchfork-affiliated Altered Zones website respectively. Add to this the fact that the trio's debut album Actually is being released on the ever-reliable Underwater Peoples label (who, thanks to Family Portrait and Julian Lynch, already have two of the year's finest long-players to their name) and La Big Vic certainly seem to be onto a winner.

All the experience and hipster points in the world, however, amount to jack if the music can't back it up, so it comes as a pleasant surprise to find that for their debut the band have turned out something of a masterclass in laid-back avant-rock. Anyone familiar with the kind of material featured on Friedlander's sites should have a pretty good idea of what to expect, and the droning kosmische synths, minimalist vibes and offbeat rhythms are all present and correct. But La Big Vic are no mere Krautrock revivalists; Actually's deceptively intricate beats are programmed with a subtle flair that would impress the most perfectionist of R&B or dubstep producers, and there is a wealth of hooks on offer that demonstrate a pop sensibility strong enough to shine through the lo-fi haze.

Of course, with synths replacing guitars as the bedroom artist's weapon of choice and the popularity of the ever-expanding experimental community hinting at a 'New Wave Of New Age', a band needs something special to make them stand out from the crowd, and in front-woman Emilie Friedlander, La Big Vic have their own USP. A talented writer whose musical chops are as impressive as her extensive subject knowledge, it's her violin playing that lifts Actually above the hordes of similarly inclined peers. The violin is somewhat under-utilised as a lead instrument in modern music, but here Friedlander uses wah-wah and effects pedals to push its sound into new territories; on 'Heyo (Silver Morning)' and 'Mr. Broken Bird' the bowed strings resemble a saxophone, while the hulusi-like sounds conjured up on 'FAO' and 'Chinese Wedding' lend an oriental zen feel.

For the most part Actually floats along at a fairly steady pace. It's perfect chill-out fare, and, with its warm, squelchy synths and vocoder vocals, 'LYNY' even manages to recall the bubble-bath relaxation vibes of French duo Air. But the trio show real promise when they cut loose; when they lock into a rattling motorik groove at the end of 'Mr. Broken Bird', for example, or at the climax of album closer 'Musica', where the trance-spell cast by the throbbing slow-motion electro pulse is rudely broken by a squalling guitar solo that sounds like Michael Karoli impersonating Hendrix. With so many young artists drawing inspiration from the same avant-garde sources, it's easy to forget this kind of music has roots stretching back almost half a century. But with this lovingly detailed collection of richly textured space-rock La Big Vic are definitely facing forward, and on the basis of this offering the future looks very bright indeed.

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