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Album review – Grawl!x – Aye!

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★★★★

Just over a year since Grawl!x burst into being with the whispered statement of debut album Good Grief, multi-instrumentalist James Machin has returned with the latest evolution of his new guise.

Grawlix - aye

Aye! takes the reverb-heavy, dream-pop template of the debut but begins to explore the true potential Machin’s musical universe.

This is an infinitely more joyous, and colourful record which is strange when considering the ominous subject matter it is based on.

Forming part of a trilogy exploring the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of dealing with grief (this covers ‘acceptance’ – the final stage) you’d expect an aural tapestry of grief, darkness and misery, but Aye! is a work of beauty.

As a singular talent who plays every instrument on this record it feels like the result of a definite individual journey. When you consider the recording process, recorded over months at disjointed sessions in bedrooms and other “spaces” it is easy to identify this music’s freedom and lack of a sense of place – it sounds like part of the fabric of its surrounds.

Aye! is also fuller, bigger and more grandiose sounding, which can be filtered back to the band’s (it is a band in the live arena) tour of beautiful churches around the UK. The way Machin’s original Grawl!x songs sounded echoing around these epic spaces has bled into the sound of Aye!

All romanticism aside, musically Aye! is simply a wonderful listen right from the ominous piano of opener ‘night start’ through to the album’s last gasps.

‘Pando’ expanding on the dream-pop of Good Grief is pure joy and a chiming indie-pop gem.

Latest number to be given the video treatment ‘Kumquat’ continues the joy and is the album’s obvious choice for radio play.

The real surprise of Aye! comes as the record bursts into its second half. As ‘Compliance’ starts with its vocoder voice and surging synths it is apparent that Machin is letting electronics into his dreamy world, and the results are magnificent.

‘Circadian Rhythm’ is future dream-pop and a perfect union of digital and organic, as drum machines and spacey synths ooze into the dream-pop Machin perfected on the first half of the album.

Stepping away from the light and optimism, ‘Destination’ is a darker techno track, whilst with the addition of fellow kindred spirits Haiku Salut ‘Gumption’ adds new instrumentation to the mix to produce an interesting album stand-out.

Nothing here ever sounds out of place, with each carefully constructed soundscape forming part of a puzzle that paints a brilliant complete picture.

The only thing holding Aye! back is the overt similarities to the debut – Machin’s vocals and guitar are still drowning in reverb which gives moments a ‘more of the same’ feel. But this is a minor criticism of a record that displays a massive leap forward.

With rumours circulating that a third record is already recorded, Grawl!x could again out-do Aye! before its brilliance has even had chance to sink-in, and that is what makes this music so great – this is by no means ‘it’ this is an evolving, work in progress.

Aye! is out now




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