It’s difficult for all musicians to define their sound nowadays, no matter what kind of music they make. Maribou State, who make atmospheric electronic cuts, face the even tougher challenge of marking themselves out in a genre that’s predominately about striking a balance between minimalism and movement. Portraits, the debut album from Hertfordshire lads Chris Davids and Liam Ivory, is a pleasant escape but misses the alchemy that turns a good electronic album into a great one.
This electric duo has been described in the past as a “downtempo Disclosure”, a description which still rings true now. Though many of the songs on Portraits, such as Wallflower, start out as slow-paced piano or dub grooves, these intros soon make way for jerky, ghostly trip-hop. The high BPMs here are a sure sign that Maribou State have the dance floor in mind, even though Portraits incorporates copious amounts of downtempo throughout.
The effect can be exhilarating, as with the growing, cordial hum of Raincoats, or it can be exhausting – the cacophony of Rituals being one instance where the soundscape becomes distorted, nondescript techno. Granted the duo are still defining their sound, but the uneven combo at play here leaves something to be desired in a way that a straight dance (Disclosure) or downtempo (Bonobo) album does not.
Maribou State are at their best when they opt for a subtly not dissimilar to that of Rhye, Hidden Orchestra or James Blake. Natural Fools, a track in which taught guitar chords stand out against the faint rising and falling of East-leaning background instrumentation, is one such example. Songs featuring guest vocals – from Pedestrian, Jono McCleery and Holly Walker – also tend to have more restraint, allowing the vocalists to influence the tone. Walker does that beautifully on the affectionate Steal, drawing you close with her sensitive cry of: “I could have led a different life”.
Pockets of Maribou State’s debut are genuinely a treat for lovers of moody electro. There’s a transfixing ambience fit for early morning activity and pondering late at night. But for those that were hoping for a more understated Zero 7-esque affair throughout, Portraits is primarily a downtempo dance album in the vein of Bondax. It’s quietly impactful, but just as forgettable too.
Portraits by Maribou State can be ordered here.