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"Imaginary Walls Collapse"

8/10
Adam Stafford – Imaginary Walls Collapse
11 July 2013, 10:00 Written by Chris Tapley
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Like the Allen Ginsberg poem which inspired its title, Adam Stafford’s Imaginary Walls Collapse is a bold and transformative work, one which skirts boldly and inventively across countless ideas with little regard for established stylistic boundaries.

This is hardly surprising, as Stafford has long since established himself as one of the most creative minds in Scottish music, first with the under-appreciated alt-folk outfit Y’All is Fantasy Island and then with his tireless solo projects which regularly traverse the lines between folk, pop, loop experiments and noise. This however, his second ‘proper’ solo album, is his most fully realised and accessible release to date, as he condenses these myriad influences into a melting pot of electric Americana folk and weird experimental pop.

Opening with a seven minute machinistic riff meditation which dances around lyrics of Satan and sadomasochism while melting in and out of feedback noise, we’re offered an apt entrance point to the record. It’s arguably the most ‘difficult’ track here, though and its closest relative ‘Invisible Migration‘ props up those crunching guitar licks with a built from scratch beatbox base, Stafford’s looped vocal ticks interpolating with his soulful lead vocal growing ever more agitated and affecting. ‘His Acres’ pulls similarly impressive vocal tricks in a joyously noisy manner, and it’s these kind of tracks which underline the thrilling sense of analogue invention at the heart of this album. The careful layering of sounds is undeniably quite clever, often turning against instinct and channelling the spirit of avant-garde composers like Steve Reich alongside the aesthetics of more pop influenced outsider songwriters; the lyrical pre-occupation with surreal and often religious imagery reminiscent of Sparklehorse in particular.

There are also some beautifully understated tracks which showcase the deft songwriting ability that makes the above kinds of rule-breaking possible. Closer ‘Phased Return‘ twinkles with a gentle introspection – “it’s just one of these things as I grow old” he sings, enunciating with a clarity of voice and mind arguably missing in past work. Similarly ‘Ghostly Arms‘ is all gentle harmonies and softness of touch, a song which requires no effort to get lost in, and such vivid execution of Stafford’s underlying melodic sensibilities is one of the best things here. ‘Cold Seas’ trades male and female vocals back and forth (with Siobhan Wilson; an exciting new artist in her own right, after last years gorgeous Glorified Demons EP) over one of those patented vocal loop beats crafted from nothing but a whisper and building gorgeously to an explosion of trumpet which is too unexpected to not be a delight.

Nothing on record quite matches up to the experience of witnessing how Stafford gradually builds these looped cathedrals of sound in the live environment (his shows have even earned him the nickname ‘The Slow Motion Preacher’), but the breadth of ideas and their visceral translations here do repeatedly come close. This is a quietly bold album, it’s unique brew of singular creativity and deference to traditional sounds unearths an all too rare air of finesse which deserves to be celebrated far beyond the hub of Glasgow’s music community which has housed it until now.

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