Sepalcure, Sepalcure

[Hotflush Recordings]


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It’s funny how quickly things change: when Sepalcure emerged last year with the Love Pressure EP, it was the coming together of two NYC underground figures whose newest work seemed to exceed their reputations. Fast-forward almost exactly a year and their debut eponymous album is released at the tail end of an exhaustive fanfare surrounding not only Travis Stewart’s year-defining Room(s) album as Machinedrum but Praveen Sharma’s attention-grabbing run of singles on Rush Hour and Hotflush Recordings as Braille. On Sepalcure, the duo now feels like two distinct personalities combining forces, suddenly shifting from an underdog odd couple to a supergroup.

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They carry the confidence of a supergroup, too: Sepalcure has an unusually restrained pace, especially given the exuberant and flamboyant nature of much American bass music. They’ve got our attention and now they’re going at their own speed, sounding pretty damn comfortable the whole time. Textures are supple, rhythms are given room to stretch out, and the whole thing percolates subtly like a limber live band. The group’s sound has never been more luscious, like on the audacious Who-sampling “See Me Feel Me,” wrapping layers of guitar and chime resonance around a lazy shuffle. It’s almost daringly lazy: their restraint never dips to the near-anemic dearth of energy of the gossamer-thin Fleur EP, but it’s still restraint, and the album’s leisurely pace can work against the album as much as in its favor. This is dance music after all, and the slow, methodical step can start to linger past its welcome — especially when held up to something as unapologetically frenetic as Room(s).

Slow and careful is rarely exciting, then, but there’s still a lot to like on Sepalcure. Much attention has been lavished on first single “Pencil Pimp,” and rightly so: the track is an ideal distillation of the two’s idiosyncrasies, with Machinedrum’s slippery-ice percussion held in place by Braille’s more house-indebted tendencies. The two play off each other’s strengths and occasionally accede more ground to the other, for tracks that feel almost like solo showcases. Machinedrum takes the reins for the album’s midsection — reaching up to 150 beats per minute — with the fantastic “Eternally Yrs” and the paranoid twitch of “Yuh Nuh See,” but they’re embellished with a polished sheen that feels borrowed from the Braille material. Likewise, the latter’s preference for conventional house and garage rhythms is couched in tracks like “Me” or “Breezin,” the latter the album’s longest and strongest track, taking the band’s preference for slow and sensual build-up to a gorgeous climax of iridescently autotuned catchphrases á la Machinedrum’s “U Don’t Survive.” Braille’s ear for full-throated vocal phrases is as intact as ever, and the jerky “The One” and “Hold On” are defined by their catchy and memorable vocals as much as the intricate drum patterns they float on.

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Much like the group’s elegant and detailed artwork, the closer you look into the duo’s music, the more there is to latch on to; but here the group’s work feels detached, steeped in aestheticism rather than feeling (the issue of its ambling tempo rises again, trading in vitality for luxury). It’s a consistent aesthetic, sure: the live-band feeling means there’s a ton of space in these recordings, and they’re warm and inviting, but the consistent palette of guitars and muted drums tends to blur together over the album’s whole. Pick a random track off of Sepalcure — especially something like “The One” or “Breezin” — and you’ll probably be blown away, which is a testament to the considerable skill and professionalism the duo nevertheless exhibit here. More like inveterate career work and less like a debut, Sepalcure is a firmly “good but not great” album, a duo having found their sweet spot lingering around just a little longer to see what other pleasures they can uncover. Even if we’ll have to wait till next time for the “moving forward” part, when it all sounds this good, can we blame them?

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Sepalcure | Deeper Shades Of House  on December 1, 2011 at 8:34 AM

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