Lilacs and Champagne – Danish and Blue album review

Making a purely instrumental album that is enjoyable from beginning to end is an incredibly challenging concept. When you make an album of songs without lyrics, it is the responsibility of the music to solely carry the message and tone of the record throughout. This can be done in three ways. In the case of an incredibly talented musician, such as Jeff Beck, there is ample to time to show virtuosity and mastery of an instrument, while simultaneously creating passages that will stick with listeners. Persons that are particularly obsessed with instrumental style and composition will be enamored with these recordings. The second method of releasing an all-instrumental album is to create a computer generated production. In the case of an artist such as Four Tet, these electronically generated albums generally have a central theme and feel, and can be played from beginning to end while one is washing dishes, writing an essay, or reading a book. The third method of creation involves digging deep into crates of known and unknown records in order to procure samples that can be pieced together into a cohesive whole. Artists such as The Books have previously attempted this feat, and when done correctly, the results can bring new meaning and scope to previously unknown material.

The third sample-heavy method is the medium of choice for Lilacs and Champagne, a collaborative duo made up of Alex Hall and Emil Amos. On their latest release, Danish and Blue, the two Portland Oregon based producers wade into a menagerie of sound and try to create new songs with the remnants of old. Occasionally, listening to the fruits of their labors reveals interesting new noises, and makes a case for Lilacs and Champagne to be included in discussions with Ratatat, or even the aforementioned Books. However, as previously stated, truly outstanding instrumental passages are necessary to carry a whole album without lyrics. Although there are some sections of Danish and Blue that use spoken samples, there are only a few highlights.

The album begins with “Metaphysical Transitions,” a spoken word introduction surrounded by layers of strange chanting and a descending piano phrase. It is one of the songs that is most easily compared to The Books output. When the track is completed, Hall and Amos proceed to roll out a string of tracks that have the sound of a dusty vinyl record. The beats never hit particularly hard, and although there are some interesting guitar parts (especially in “Le Grand”) the album seems content to remain in a down-tempo haze of white noise and strings.

One could be forgiven for dismissing Danish and Blue before a full listen is complete, however, to do so would be to miss the two high points of the record. Tracks 8 and 9, entitled “Honest Man” and “Refractory Period” respectively, are simply the best offerings. “Honest Man” simmers with an off-time bass and drum intro before bursting into a raw hip-hop beat, and “Refractory Period” is rhythmically enticing while tactfully dispensing some distorted guitar heroics. It is a shame that more of the record is not as captivating as this duo.

In the end, Danish and Blue is not a particularly great album. Nor is it an exceptionally bad one. It is simply a musical work that seems content to exist without necessarily testing new boundaries or musical avenues. Sample based albums can be intriguing, but this one was purely vanilla.

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