Available on: 2MR/Captured Tracks
American DJ and producer Mike Simonetti has long been a polarizing figure in the scenes he’s helped to promote and nourish over the course of his 20-plus year career; as the head of the Troubleman Unlimited label he helped introduce listeners to the ragged rock and noise sounds of Black Dice, Rye Coalition, The Walkmen, Erase Errata and Glass Candy, amongst many others. His support for the latter band led to a collaborative venture with Glass Candy’s own Johnny Jewel in the form of Italians Do It Better, which replaced the dirty artist-loft scrappiness of Troubleman’s aesthetic heyday with a cleaner, more blankly stylized po-mo disco shine, but with the glamour of the genre’s stereotypes replaced with a narcotic mile-long stare and a bevy of fluorescent machine tones.
At some point along the way, Simonetti and Jewel parted company, leaving Italians under the latter’s care while Simonetti regrouped with a series of low-profile mixtapes, a handful of limited singles, and a new label co-curated by Mike Sniper of Blank Dogs and the Captured Tracks indie empire. The inaugural release on their new label 2MR (short for 2 Mikes Records) is the debut album from Simonetti’s project Pale Blue, which finds him exploring a sound that moves away from both of his previous ventures in favor of a desire to fuse the lush density of shoegaze and dreampop with stark, minimal, mechanized techno pulsations. It’s a curious move, not least because it’s territory widely explored by the Sincerely Yours label, whose roster of artists – Air France, jj, and The Tough Alliance – create heart-wrenching, memorable pop music out of half-remembered Balearic nostalgia and sampladelic swagger.
Pale Blue’s The Past We Leave Behind doesn’t seem concerned with the emotional pop saudade of jj’s No 2 or Air France’s No Way Down, though. Instead it sets its crosshairs on the same faded, Instagram-filtered textures that the Sincerely Yours crew so romantically explored while jettisoning their pop hooks and yearning sentiments in favor of more experimental vocal textures, focusing on the sensuality of glottal ululations. Simonetti bounces between two extremes throughout the album’s 70-minute runtime, with drifting clouds of ambient synthesis suddenly broken apart by metronomic rhythms, spiraling arpeggiations, or shattered looping sighs.
Pulling the album’s split personalities apart, one would find two distinctly different albums here; by combining the two, The Past We Leave Behind tends to lose focus, and that’s a shame, because when the record does manage a direct and assertive gaze, its tracks are kinetic, sensual, and hypnotic. The title cut, the throbbing murmur of ‘Distance To The Waves’, drone lamentation of ‘Rain’ and the orchestral swoon of house-anchored ‘The Math’ would all shine brighter in the context of a 12″ single or EP, but their power is diluted when surrounded by a number of lengthy cuts which feel more like works-in-progress next to these superior experiments.
As the album progresses, recurring vocal motifs and droning chords bring a sense of continuity necessary amidst the lack of bangers, but there are times where Simonetti seems to hold back at precisely the moment where he should be abstracting even further. The Past We Leave Behind‘s highlights are the moments where the ensemble feels confident and unafraid of the pain and loss that the album was created to process in the first place.
While showing a great deal of promise, Pale Blue’s debut stumbles occasionally from the weight of its overstuffed runtime and a curious sense of hesitation and reluctance. The Past We Leave Behind‘s highlights are the moments where the ensemble feels confident and unafraid of the pain and loss that the album was created to process in the first place.
Credit is due to Simonetti for having the courage to release such an openly personal new project in such a warts’n’all fashion; its subtle nuances reveal themselves with repeated headphone listens, and though it could use a bit of a trim, there’s plenty here to entice the listener to just lay back, lose yourself, and float.