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Various - The World Is Gone

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Artist: Various

Album: The World Is Gone

Label: XL

Review date: Oct. 15, 2006

Awkwardly named and generally reclusive, British duo Various Production’s first few 7” and 12” releases succeeded in creating a mysterious, and in some circles constantly discussed, profile that few have been able to crack. Those initial vinyl sides lived up to the implications of a name like Various – bouncing from dubstep click-clack to down-tempo folktronics and back through terse dance beats that sampled liberally from popular songs, the duo’s inability to stick with any one style for longer than a record side only compounded their reticence to show themselves or their many vocal collaborators.

The World Is Gone is the group’s first full-length, and as would be expected from the depth of their singles, it winds through a variety of sounds and styles in 12 short bursts. However, when translated to a long-playing format, Various’ inherent multiplicity sounds a bit like a haphazard pastiche that doesn’t always gel into a solid end-to-end album. While that doesn’t necessarily mark the disc as a failure by any stretch, it does eliminate one of the strongest points of their initial recordings – namely, brevity. Held in check to only a handful of songs per release, the group had thus far been able to dedicate themselves to a specific sound with each successive piece of wax. The logical upshot of that was to create a picture of a group working a distinct sound node each time out – old folk songs here, cleverly masked vocal samples and propulsive thump there. If anything, The World Is Gone simply plays as a demo-reel summation of those singles, albeit with fewer high points. Thus, the hope that each distinct sound the group has thus far worked so capably would cohere in a long-playing format is sadly dashed.

That’s not to suggest that there isn’t a wealth of good to great tracks on The World Is Gone. Unfortunately, two of those have already seen release as singles (the lethargic electro of “Hater” and the nuanced dubstep figures of “Sir”). Discounting that pair, “Circle of Sorrow” plays a like a more depressed Vashti Bunyan, it’s plucks and background rumblings betraying a subtle hint of debt to later-era Current 93, a mode that “Deadman” works just as well. “Lost” couples the ominous tread of an unnamed female vocalist with sparse beat patterns for a haunting trek, while “Today” ups the tension noticeably through throbbing bass and terse synth punctures. However, aside from these few high points, much of The World Is Gone sadly sounds as if Various peaked with the brilliance of those initial six singles that were staggered over the past couple of years.

It’s unfortunate that the first widely available release from this crew barely conveys the depth and complexity of the tracks they’re capable of creating. In some ways, the album’s constant back and forth from beat programmatics to arched folk tunes creates an uneasy dichotomy between these two poles of performance that never existed on previous releases. And here, the quality of the more folk-based material clearly outshines any other style signifiers the band chooses to explore throughout the course of the album. As such, those tracks that shy away from the pluck and strum sound thin and almost weak in comparison. For those who have yet to be exposed to Various Production and their sound world, The World Is Gone might still hold some pleasant surprises. But for those of us who have held those early singles near and dear, the group’s first attempt at an album tends to fall flat without even attempting to raise the stakes.

By Michael Crumsho

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