Rebecca Gates and The Consortium - "&&&" (The Float)
If you’re a Rebecca Gates fan, The Float redefines long-awaited – it’s been a bit of a stretch, the eleven years since her previous mini-album, Ruby Series. Not many people can get away with that kind of delay and come back unruffled and confident, and I can only think of Scott Walker as having a similar, loose relationship with the ticking of the temporal. In recent interviews, Gates has talked about taking time away from the treadmill, rethinking her relationship to music while immersing herself in visual art, sound art, curatorial work, and advocacy for musicians (she works with the Future of Music Coalition.) It’s paid off: The Float is an astonishing record by any measure, wading out from the becalmed waters of its predecessor, taking in all kinds of new directions, but still with her indelible songwriterly fingerprint.
Gates has always felt like an intuitive songwriter, as though she’s mapping out the span of her hands across chords and melodies with quiet surprise. This is not to suggest naivety, but her songs often feel playful, urged on to the next unexpected melodic twist, the next discovery. On The Float, she’s taking more risks with the sound too, from the glam stomp that bursts through the gates on “Tips On Spines” through to the naked blues plaint of “Rose,” right up to the electronics and feedback that cast “Slowed Lowed Lowered” adrift on an ocean of noise. It’s a beautifully paced and placed record, where each song describes its own arc, and fits the loose narrative of the entire album, such that “&&&” finds its dark shadow in the stylish stride of “Suite Sails,” with “The Curl Of The Coast” the centerpiece.
“The Curl Of The Coast” is a remarkable song, deconstructing itself as it progresses, as loose, free and spaced-out as Big Star’s Third, but peaceful and gracious, where Third was disconnected and fog-headed. Each note on “The Curl Of The Coast” slides into place with natural precision, each chord change like a wave breaking, water coursing through the sand and silt under Gates’s feet as she hymns her other, "to me you’re a radio on all night, truly you’re my heaven… time will take you, can I take you first?" The lyrics capture moments of observance as the music behind Gates’s voice moves in cellular motions, like nature’s puzzle unfolding. Indeed it’s those lyrics I keep coming back to, strung across the entire record, all manner of surprising juxtapositions and moments of quotidian poetry: "you could make a rose flower in rhythm"; "you can shake that filigree mood"; "shadows on the insides of my eyes" analogizing "tips along the sides of spines."
She has the perfect voice for these lyrics, too, with the inflection of classic soul singers, and an incredible control of breath and timing that suggests she’d make a great jazz vocalist, if she wished. You can hear her voice caressing the words, a nice parallel to the way the lyrics caress language, written for verbal pleasure. When she starts working in serious wordplay, like her capture of moments on “Rose,” the "morning shadow swimming" and "meteor shower shimmer," she’s close to avant-garde poetics. But these are also deeply physical songs, edging close to a poetics of the body. They work in tandem with the instrumentation, as Gates and her Consortium thread their playing together like needlepoint or tapestry, a particularly ‘woven’ approach to arrangement, crafty and elegant.
Lest we get lost in poetry, The Float can also rock. “Tips On Spines” I’ve already mentioned, and “Harlesden To Vals” has the ease and the opaque shimmer of the Rolling Stones’ Between The Buttons, a long-time love affair for Gates: back in 1999, her previous band the Spinanes released a Stones cover single, coupling “(S)he Smiled Sweetly” and “All Sold Out.” Elsewhere, Gates remembers that the blues is the source, and in “Rose,” her voice slides between notes with the grace of a blues singer, before spiraling strings settle into a kind of baroque soul that suggests a chamber-pop Dusty In Memphis.
There’s all kinds of things going on in The Float: its aquatic tenor (in this respect it makes an ideal companion to Lightships’ similarly waterlogged Electric Cables), its endlessly surprising lyrics, and its skeins of instrumentation. But it’s also a lesson in how to come back to your art regenerated, stylish and true. The Float is full of the sound of people who love making music, loving making music.