Two albums released as one, or one album released as two? Last Harbour‘s bold experiment is a fascinating exercise in double vision. The songs on the primary disc (Your heart, it carries the sound) are reconstructed by a host of artists on the bonus disc (Escape was all I ever meant), providing listeners with a choice between an edgy indie album and an experimental ambient album. It’s not quite apples to apples, as a twenty minute track on the remix disc balances the excision of four tracks from the parent disc, but it’s close.
In at least one instance, the decision not to remix a track may reflect the strength of the original rendition. This was likely the case with the title track, a dark western crooner in the manner of Murder by Death and I Like Trains. The comparison is due not only to Kevin Craig’s baritone voice, but to the slow builds and symphonic explosions. The lyrics hold suit: Nothing, you have shown there is nothing, and your heart, it carries no sound; and no one, no lover can touch you, for there’s blood on the edge of your gown. There’s virtually no way to improve this track except by turning it up.
The bonus disc is launched by Lanterns on the Lake’s Paul Gregory, who transforms the piano ballad into an atmospheric stunner, fading the vocals and holding back the keyboard until halfway through. In the closing minutes, stuttered magnetic fuzz adds a modern appeal. The remix is a clear improvement over the original track, and a demonstration of a song as an animal in flux. 23 Hanging Trees tackles the similarly piano-led “The heath”, nearly doubling its length by adding time-stretched elements, such as allowing the piano only a single breath at a time. The vocals are pushed to a near confrontational volume. Fieldhead takes the opposite tack by shortening the gothic duet “Open up & rust”, looping the female side of the vocal and adding prominent electronic beats. It’s a completely different track with a completely different appeal.
A.R.C. Soundtracks‘ take on “If you mean to be lost” pumps up the military drums and the bass, swaps a guitar section for strings, and switches vocalists from male to female: spooky where the original was sad. “The Stars Look Down” begins as an 80s charmer in the vein of The Church, with an acoustic guitar and bird breakdown at the end, and becomes a lumbering whisperer in the hands of Blk W/Bear; the vocals seem merely an afterthought. “This is how we disappeared” offers an odd combination of opera and what sounds like thumb piano; an answering machine loop at the end is ignored by Sone Institute, who echoes the thumb piano, filters the main vocal and drops the opera. Finally, slowsecret quadruples the length of “Replacement”, abandoning the verse-chorus-verse format in favor of a slow-building instrumental drone.
For readers of A Closer Listen, the bonus disc is clearly the draw; for gothic and murder ballad fans, the main disc takes the cake. But for those curious about the construction of music and the possibilities offered by creative out-of-genre remixes, this release may end up as a classroom case study. Few artists ever dream of trying such a thing, but more should. (Richard Allen)
Open up & rust ~ Fieldhead remix