The new year has come, and like all beginnings, there is some time spent looking back from whence we came, appreciating the change. So, for the next five days, I'll be highlighting my favorite records of 2011. And when I say records, I, of course, mean LPs. So, we'll be considering these albums by not only their music, but also the accompanying art work, design, and collectablility. We're looking for those elements that seemingly make something worth owning, that make a release special. Our first stand-out record this year was the Hippos in Tanks release of Sleep ∞ Over Forever.
The music hums like levitation, dreamlike as tones fall in and out of sync with one another. Sleep ∞ Over opens her album to this mysterious landscape - arresting in the best way avant-garde music can be - before dropping a luscious synth track and the avant-garde tag altogether. Forever follows this path throughout. Stefanie Franciotti crafts intricately textured soundscapes, blue things blooming in a green forest, before leading us to an unsuspecting pop song. Don't be fooled, even these gems are slowed, warped from time, gossamer, photographed by a lens smeared in vaseline.
There is something vulnerable to Ms. Franciotti's music. Dangerous, but alluring. In almost all cases, her vocals are concealed by filters or layers of sound distorted to where they sound like memories - there, but not quite. The effect leaves a haunting impression that something has been lost, never to return.
The artwork to Forever suggests as much. The sparse dark pink cover gives no indication to performer or title, but only portrays a small bronze figurine of a vixenous victim down to her garters, bound like an animal. The cover gives us the front of the statue and the back cover displays the rear. Only the spine of the record indicates the artist and other pertinent information. The inner sleeve follows this color combination, with a black ground to dark pink text indicating track names and performers, one side of which is blank. The vinyl itself is a milky sea-foam green, a stark contrast to the black and pink of everything else. The contrast between the pink and green remind me of Van Gogh. I read somewhere that he particularly enjoyed how pink and that pale green interact, citing their proficiency of portraying human despair.
Whether it's all the flying saucer noises or something else more sinister, Forever seems to have a sense of abduction or removal punctuated by two moments of opiated bliss: "Romantic Streams" and "Flying Saucers Are Real." These openings of sunshine are all the more captivating by their comparison to the dark world which they inhabit. Even "Stickers" seems to warble and fall apart at the end, dissipating into some harsh reality.
Stefanie Franciotti has made anticipatory music with Sleep ∞ Over and Forever. Music is heading to a more atmospheric nature, punctuated by strong thematic tracks, and Franciotti has set an admirable example for the rest of us. Label Hippos in Tanks have done well, releasing a record of equal weight to the music contained inside, hauntingly curious with the bound naked figurine adoring the cover. Forever is encompassing and easy to enjoy revealing quirks and caveats with headphoned listening. Definitely worth picking up and giving a spin.