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Raf And O
Time Machine David Stubbs , April 28th, 2014 13:04

This is the second album by vocalist and songwriter Raf Mantelli and Richard Smith (O) who co-creates the sound web the songs inhabit. Describing what they meticulously concoct as electronica is a misnomer, really. The excellent Time Machine represents the very antithesis of EDM, the latter-day heavy metal, with its oppressive, compressed, ritualised, stadium-pleasing blare. There is a butterfly, acoustic delicacy about tracks like 'Mad And Brilliant', and yet also the deceptive, steel strength of spider silk in their complex weaving - and above all, a sense of space generated in which to live, breathe and explore.

Raf's tremulous vocals remind a little of Stina Nordenstam, but in truth she ranges far and wide in her emotional and lyrical foragings. The arrangements are full of detail - 'You Made Me' features stand-up bass, glassware-as-instrumentation, amplified acoustic plucking, and agitated, abstract, processed electronics, all of which add up to a detailed anatomy of an emotional state. 

The duo use an array of effects - electro/acoustic drums, self-made triggers, pads, samplers, analogue synthesizers, repetitions and glitches - to track the fluctuations and narrative progressions of the lyrics. 'Chasing' is dappled and sunblinded, flitting between ecstasy and anxiety. As the title track has it, "A place we call the future, go ahead, the switch changes colour" encapsulates the Raf And O modus operandi - the surreal dreams, hopes and fears embraced and expressed in the words matched by the colourisation and reinforcement of the ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic backdrop. Freeze-frame any given second of this album and it'll reveal a hive of pixellated, analogue activity.

The album takes a lovely turn with a cover of David Bowie's 'Lady Grinning Soul' from Aladdin Sane, a theme song for an imaginary Bond movie, whose warm, analogue synth waves remind of Brian Eno circa Before And After Science. Perhaps the album's most unnerving track, however, is 'Slocomotion', whose scene is set with a field recording, the sound of a child's voice - you're sitting a cafe, perhaps, minding your own business. Then, the approach of stilettoes and a tiny, ear canal-tingling whisper; "I know exactly how to get inside your head, if you give me half a chance I show you how it's done, you don't need to know, in fact you're unaware." As with Time Machine as a whole, it's an approach you'd do well to take up, if you know what's good for you. 

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