, April 23rd, 2012 07:57
Beautiful is what Stay + are. For what is distilled happiness, if not beauty? That, and a clot of MDMA the size of an eyeball. If Ghost Box do British hauntology in retro shades of phobia and the dead schoolboys of Public Service Broadcasting, 'chill-rave' duo Stay + are the sound of pure ecstasy, in every sense. Though they started life as the stupidly-named Christian Aids, on Arem Matt Farthing and Christopher Poole transcend their flakey-hip origins, jettisoning the cod-dada rhetoric to opt for something real - a dedication to the love that permeated rave - gorgeous, sincere and profound in its simplicity.
The Britain they pine for isn't an Albion or 50s sci-fi or some pastoral medieval scene, but that of their early childhood - the Britain of baggy jeans, Thatcherite hedonism and acid casuals: the house that Oakenfold built. A world still fresh in the mind for many, but mythically vanished for the kids coming into adulthood in 2012. It's a longing expressed in a heady end-of-the-summer vibe; a summer that, through their music, they conspire to make eternal.
High times, yes, but doused in melancholy, Stay + embody the bittersweet nature of remembering, giving form to the experience of catching an old school anthem on the radio as a sagging 30-something - the nostalgia rush tainted with sorrow for a lost youth. But for youngsters Matt Farthing and Christopher Poole, it's a generational sadness, of having been born to late. It's the sound of being young in another era not of their own, and somewhere below the ecstasy is the sad realization of that; a remorse as poignant as that running through the The Good, The Bad and The Queen or The Suburbs.
That they're also a powerfully effective dance act, heavier than the dance-informed likes of Air France and Memory Tapes, makes the subtext all the more remarkable an achievement. Without ever intellectualising the exercise with artsy objectivity, with early recordings 'Fever', 'Stay Positive' and 'Scum' they subverted house music by enchanting it a poetic sense of having fallen out of time. Powered always by the tender pressing motion of side-chained synth, between the kissing crush of those huge soft-edged beats - a reverb-damp ‘shrump shrumping’ – and the crie de couer of Hacienda ghosts, the tracks shimmer with fond memories; light dancing on a Mediterranean lagoon. Mitsubishi-magical.
For all the forced cheer that has characterized indie electropop in the last decade, it's Stay + who are able to infiltrate the listener, to the very viscera, with fat golden beams. Instead of merely hearing, below the amniotic depths you feel it - the intimation of pure happiness like sunlight on your palm. As if the music is itself dosed, their power falls to the chillwave-indebted production, a hair's breadth off deconstruction. Undoubtedly anathema to the purists, Arem's immersive, illusory blanket of ether is part of a less obvious approach to conveying euphoria.
'The Guardian' begins hushed, flies, then drops to a single line of muted synths. The ensuing charge is a cloud-bursting epiphany, Mothlite's Daniel O'Sullivan whispering sweet nothings to the dawn skies and avowing your angelic protection. It's epic stuff, reviving the lost art of The Big Drop; stomach-in-mouth moments that land like the voice of God at an outdoor super-club. Contrastingly, the low-key 'Hush Money' marries pitched-up diva vox to a glistening aubade, and reaffirms the increasing suggestion that the Orbital are to chill-rave acts (including D/R/U/G/S and Blondes) what yacht-rock is to H-pop. Perhaps when all is said and done, it was the prog techno masters that captured the utopian spirit of the time.
If short on variety and technical prowess, Arem develops the template set down on their buzz singles. Elsewhere 'Dandelion Seed' bounces from a 2-step beat to straight 4-to-the floor, and employs Iain Woods to sing his song, rather than cutting into him as a texture/rhythm prop. Like The XX meets Chicane via Delorean, Woods' passion-honed vowels bring you in close, before the inevitable geyser of layered euphoria. That big bass-kick rolls into action and he gives himself over to the music "And because of you I know, now I can live / The gifts that I can give/ If we keep staying positive". It's what they used to call an anthem.
A vaguely self-reflexive album, incantatory vocals and a house-ethereal tone evoke a devotional prayer to the dance-floor; a type of music where, as The Guardian’s Paul Lester writes "motion and release and the very pursuit of pleasure assume a mysterious glamour." Imagining the Cottingley Fairies in Ibiza, Arem is great h-pop, in that by looking to the past it restores a sense of the future.