REVIEW: ACTIVE CHILD – YOU ARE ALL I SEE (2011)
Active Child is Pat Grossi, a multi-instrumentalist and former choir boy from Los Angeles. His debut album You Are All I See could be described as dream pop infused with hints of R&B. The title track “You Are All I See” opens with the sounds of a cascading harp and sets the mood for the beautiful ride you’re about to go on as you listen to the album from the beginning to the end. At first listen, one would think that he sounds like the love-child of Joanna Newsom and Antony Hegarty. As you dive deeper into his music, you would find that he is as different as it gets.
Lo-fi R&B singer How To Dress Well lends his vocals in “Playing House”, the third track on the album and it’s in my opinion one of the best, along with lead single “Hanging On”.
Even though Grossi was formally trained as a choir boy, he has proved that he can pull off the vocal stylings of 90’s R&B in both songs and successfully marries synths and R&B drum patterns and that is why “Playing House” and “Hanging On” stood out for me. However, the star in “Playing House” is Tom Krell aka How To Dress Well. Apart from harmonising perfectly with Grossi, Krell’s vocals shines through and brings a certain kind of smoothness that a slow jam needs when he sings “That don’t make it good for anybody, don’t wanna be in love just with anybody, I’m tired of being just Mr. Anybody, so baby come with me and let’s just make a body”
Both songs evoke feelings of the longing and pain of an unrequited love and a breakup that tugs at your heartstrings. “Touch me and then turn away, put your hands into the flame, tell me if you feel this pain, ’cause I don’t want to be a ball and chain” while the rest of the album conjures images of hazy cinematic dreamscapes that would probably remind you of Sofia Coppola’s films, especially that scene of Lux Lisbon waking up alone in the field after a night with Trip Fontaine in The Virgin Suicides
or that scene of Scarlett Johansson looking out the window of the train in Lost In Translation.
Both films have something in common- and that is loneliness and the yearning for love that Active Child conveys so well with his music.
Most of the album has a dark and poignant feel with the exception of “Call Me Tonight” – the pleasantly surprising upbeat, danceable last track on the album that’s evidently influenced by The Cure and New Order. It features 80s drum beats and a groovy bassline. This is where Grossi shows his versatility and talent. He doesn’t only write slow songs, he also has to ability to produce an synth pop number that makes me want more.
The album also includes a powerful, dramatic, gorgeous remix of “Hanging On” by White Sea. White Sea is the brainchild of Morgan Kibby, who co-wrote and contributed vocals on M83‘s Saturdays = Youth. In this remix, the haunting female backing vocals remixed with the song takes it to a different level. A stellar remix of an already brilliant song.
Here’s a Classixx remix of “When Your Love Is Safe” off Active Child’s 2010 EP Curtis Lane. Classixx has stripped bare and cleaned up the original and replaced the drums with tropical sounding percussions, complete with finger snaps while retaining the original tempo. They’ve turned it into a sexy slow jam. This is one of those examples where the remix is better than the original.
Overall, You Are All I See is an impressive first release. It’s well produced, well structured and textured with beautifully layered vocals, synths, and the harp and best listened to on a lazy grey day with good quality headphones. With the emergence of artists like The Weeknd, How To Dress Well, Twin Shadow, Holy Other, etc, it seems like alt-R&B is generating a buzz. If you’re a fan of Delorean, M83 and How To Dress Well and The Weeknd, be sure to check this album out if you haven’t already.
9/10 – New York City, NY – Bowery Ballroom
9/12 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
9/13 – Montreal – Evan-Blue Skies
9/14 – Toronto – Garrison
9/15 – Cleveland, OH – Beachland Tavern
9/16 – Chicago, IL – Schubas
9/17 – Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry
9/19 – Denver, CO – Hi-Dive
9/20 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
9/21 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
9/23 – Seattle, WA – Crocodile
9/24 – Vancouver – Electric Owl
9/25 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
9/28 – San Francisco, CA – Ramona Downey
10/20 – Asheville, NC – Moog Fest