Album of the Week: Conquering Animal Sound – On Floating Bodies
Honestly, we’re struggling to think of a Scottish band more beguiling than Conquering Animal Sound.
2011′s Kammerspiel was an intriguing piece – at times utterly brilliant and never anything south of enchanting. Much of the appeal can be put down to Anneke Kampman’s breathy vocals, a weapon which is again at the forefront of their sound, helping ensure that On Floating Bodies is every bit Kammerspiel’s equal.
It may actually be even better.
From the apocalyptic Ultimate Heat Death of the Universe, everything here sounds louder. If you were to pick a fault with Kammerspiel it would be that it was a little TOO introspective and evenly paced at times. That’s not the case here.
James Scott’s pulsing synths and beats have been turned up all of a sudden. You’d still struggle to dance to the likes of Warn Me, but there’s a sense of drifting euphoria throughout, as Anneke’s looped vocals add layers of melody.
Many of the musical reference points (Bjork, Caribou, Nathan Fake) still stand up, but it seems the shift to Chemikal Underground has given the duo the confidence to cut loose a little. No Dream’s staccato vocals are totally Kate Bush and A Noise Remains’ ‘back and forth’ hook takes it dangerously close to an actual pop song – and is bloody fantastic with it.
The bruised I’ll Be Your Mirror (not that one) shares DNA with The Knife in its hissing, ominous soundscapes. Overall, this should be seen as a finessing of the Conquering Animal sound rather than any kid of reinvention. And while its influences and references are identifiable, there’s still something unique about their approach to making and performing music.
The standard of albums released in 2013 has already been remarkably high, we’ve just added On Floating Bodies to the pile.
We grabbed James and Anneke for a word (of course).
What inspired the songs on ‘On Floating Bodies’?
James: Lots of things! I think we had a clear idea of where we wanted to go with our music after the first album. We wanted more overtly electronic elements, we wanted to created more rhythmic sounds, and that came out in quite a direct fashion. Anneke had a clear idea of lyrical themes she wanted to work with, and I think that really helped in bringing the record together.
Anneke: Everything that I do feeds back into the music I make but I can’t really explain how that happens. Life is in a constant state of flux, we are in bodies, then we’re in our minds, we have bad experiences and good ones, relationships, we watch TV, we engage with the internet and its mind numbing capabailities, we use technology at most points throughout the day, we constantly come up against the structures which dictate how it is possible to live our lives. All of this affects us.
How do you think it varies from Kammerspiel?
James: To me, the record sounds and feels a lot more confident. Kammerspiel was the sound of us two experimenting, finding different sounds. On Floating Bodies is again the sound of us experimenting, but with more focus and confidence. I think they are two quite different records, and I hope we continue to keep changing and shifting on our future recording projects.
Anneke: I think On Floating Bodies has a much more ’3 dimensional’ feeling. We weren’t trying to write pop hits or whatever, and if some of the songs are structured in that way then that was more just a natural progression than a deliberate choice. I think we understood a lot more about our process for creating sound with this record and so we were freer to make bolder or more outrageous choices.
Tell us about the recording process.
James: The album was mostly written and recorded in the flat Anneke and I were sharing. Our friend Alan Bryden lent us a few things, we got the use of a sampler, a Jen synth and tape echo, all of which were integral to the sound of the album. It gave us new sounds and processes to experiment with. We then re-recorded vocals, drums and guitars with Paul Savage in Chem19 studios, and mixed it there too. The weight I put on due to Paul’s daily Gregg’s dependency, I am still trying to work off.
Anneke: Jamie and I were living together at the time. This was quite an intense period of time. With this record we became much more interested in how sound and texture could dictate the course of the music, rather than just letting things be led by specific chords or harmony. Sometimes we would record a sound off a synth, or another textural idea which was tuned in a really strange way, but that would have such an amazing sense of itself that we didn’t see the point of trying to tune it back to some predictable key. So we would try and fit a way for the rest of a track to work itself to that. We worked much more with machines than we did on the first record. Synths, and processing and not so many organic sounds. Everything that you hear has been created, we use no pre-sets and we don’t tend to sample from other people’s work (the isn’t a moral decision though, it’s just something that’s happened).
Was it an easy decision to get involved with Chemikal?
James: Very easy. Personally, I’m a fan of many of bands they’ve released – Arab Strap, De Rosa, Mogwai, Sluts of Trust – so in that sense I was very pleased. But getting to mix the record with Paul Savage in Chem19 had a large bearing on the direct sound of the record, we really benefitted from that. We’re not really like any other bands they’ve released before, but they are so easy and enjoyable to work with that that has never been a concern for us.
Anneke: For me, the decision to work with one label and not another is about trust, not necessarily about creative ‘similarity’. For me the best labels are those which represent a particular musical community and it doesn’t matter if there is an intrinsic aesthetic driving that. Chemikal have consistently given opportunities to musicians living and working in Scotland and are successful in doing so partly because they are able to spot creativity across a broad range of genres. It is a community of people working towards the same goal, to explore and celebrate the diverseness of Scottish music without prejudice and that makes me happy!!
On Floating Bodies is released on March 25 through Chemikal Underground.