Available on: Planet Mu LP
Planet Mu has never been a label with much thought for tradition. Prolific by nature, the label has always fashioned itself as a haven for eccentric fragments of electronic peculiarity – whether that’s the beserk clamour of Slugabed and Raffertie or the vintage ‘ardkore of Bizzy B. This year it seems, is no different, as the label veer even further off-course with Internal Tulip’s debut album, Mislead into a Field by a Deformed Deer.
Comprised of two Mu stalwarts, Lexaunculpt (Alex Graham) and Electric Company (Brad Laner), the Tulips masterfully splice spacious ‘60s pop with twitching, skittish electronics. It’s staring you in the face so it’s worth addressing; the album’s title, track titles and even the band’s name feel – well, maybe a bit bewildering. It feels almost forced, and really, there’s no need to shoe-horn in surplus curiosities to this particular album. It’s a bit like adding gaudy neon lighting to a Morris Minor; the swelling, treated violins of tracks like album opener ‘1/2 Retarded Tuner of Hurricanes’ are fine without that extra abnormality.
However, these gripes are forgotten within seconds of Mislead. Fraught with emotional intensity, the Internal Tulips have mastered a sort of aural time clash, where classic pop sensibilities are left deformed by the electronics often strewn around Planet Mu releases.
It’s an impressive balancing act, and leads to an oddly pleasing, fragile median on tracks like the petal-delicate ‘Bee Calmed’. Then, sat between the cold reverberations of digital futures and the balmy haze of a retro-fetishist’s view of the 1960s, the strings of ‘9 Tomorrows’ are punctuated with robotic blips and automated creaks, creating an end result that could have come from the swinging 2060s, a robot Phil Spector behind the boards.
This delicate balance deftly stays on the right side of a forced quality, avoiding any sort of awkward retrofit clichés. It’s almost as if the Internal Tulips have reinvented what it is to adopt a ‘retro’ sound. Rather than simply re-using the sounds of decades past for their own needs, Messrs Graham and Laner attempt to reinvent the ‘60s as their own curious, digital decade.
Mislead’s airy pop sits naturally amongst the lamentation of Bon Iver-esque like ‘Parasol’, ‘Hoshizaki Blues’ and ‘Arlie’. Mournful without ever becoming tiresome, these achingly poignant moments are fleshed out by the sort of cascading electronics and flittering vocal filters that Justin Vernon should consider taking with him next time he heads to his log cabin. ‘Log Thin Heart’ offers another folky reprieve; a steady rattle through a beautiful, radio static rinsed campfire song, while ‘Invalid Terrace’ takes these ballads to a new dimension; warped frequencies and distorted injections of children’s laughter disrupting the track’s piano-led sigh.
‘We Breathe’ is a puzzling addition to the album. An phenomenal pop song, having it close an album of sparse, atmospheric pieces gives the impression that you’ve listened to a 35 minute intro and only now are the songs beginning. It’s a forgivable sin however, as said ‘introduction’ contains some of the most sublime atmospherics and heart-rending artistry recently committed to audio.
Overall, the Internal Tulips imbue this album with an indefinable quality – euphoric abstraction runs through every moment, from the barely-audible guitar of ‘We Breathe’ to the snatches of vocals (“she already got all my George Harrison albums”) tucked away in ‘My Baby’, every touch here is immaculate and wonderfully preposterous. Strewn with feeling, wonderfully imagined and beautiful conceived, you couldn’t ask for an LP with more personality, emotion, guts and soul.