Anticon has always only ever been ostensibly a hip hop label and members of the collective seem to have recently become more and more interested in leaving the claustrophobic hip hopolis and charting a course to the admittedly not so distant pastures of (quasi) ambient folktronica (population: growing!), a utopian land where there’s no priority between ‘natural’ and ‘electronic’ sounds, and warm reed and brass instruments can cohabit in harmony with clipped beats and bleeps. So it is with Alias and Ehren’s new album, whose lineage can be traced back through Four Tet and Boards of Canada to My Bloody Valentine and back to Another Green World era Brian Eno. Before Eno, of course, there was no music. Lilian combines Alias’ beats and loops with his brother’s array of old jazz and orchestral instruments and has an almost bucolic nature to it. Heaven forfend we describe this as ‘chill out music’.
… but I can’t shrug off a Boards of Canada comparison when listening to Lillian
The Boards of Canada connection is probably the most pertinent, and is one that’s been present in varying degrees in Anticon’s output for some time, and the Scottish duo remixed cLOUDEAD’s “Dead Dogs Two” for inclusion on their 2002 album Ten. Maybe it’s down to their almost archetypal ubiquity within discussions of this kind of music (testament to the fact that they so comprehensively nailed that pastoral electronica sound) but I can’t shrug off a Boards of Canada comparison when listening to Lillian. It’s there in the waves of slow-building, undulating drones, the ambient interludes, and the punchy beats (harking back to Alias’ earlier diet of more old school hip hop) that underpin the whole thing. Unfortunately it’s the latter that tends to be the weak point of the album. While Ehren’s woodwinds and saxophones sound captivating throughout, they are not always successfully carried by Alias’ rhythms, which sometimes sound a bit heavy handed and generally don’t cut through the mix in a satisfying way. But that’s a quibble, this is a good record goddammit.
…songs are content to go in circles rather than advance in a linear manner
Lillian’s gliding quality might be a symptom of the process of making the album — songs being written and recorded simultaneously in a ‘let’s see what happens ethos’ that results in the record’s meandering nature, where songs are content to go in circles rather than advance in a linear manner. Hey, we might even say that in this regard the album eschews any teleological conceits, satisfying itself more with the journey than the destination. However, as with some journeys, by the end of this record you’re more tired than elated, and you realise you might’ve been better off breaking it into stages.