Monday, February 20, 2012

Leland - Francis Harris


Francis Harris
Scissor & Thread Records.

SCQ Rating: 81%

Confidence in one’s craft plays a key role in defining their genius. It’s a factor roundly assumed in regards to groundbreaking albums yet rarely probed beyond the parameters of what’s accessible and what’s challenging. We can all jot down on a napkin what distinguishes the Kid A of a particular band’s catalog from their more traditional fare, but the confidence to push those boundaries – which ensnared that first spark of creativity – typically slides to the backburner of our collective discourse.

Such a juicy issue, alas, requires a record with the right levels of audacity to incite discussion; I reckon Leland is one of those albums. Making Leland a two-disc set wouldn’t look at all arrogant; truth is, adding a mere eight seconds to its run-time would’ve left Francis Harris no choice. Yet where the confidence of Harris, better known by his alias Adultnapper, could be deduced by way of his recorded mass, his willingness to sabotage it all proves far more enticing. Here’s a collection of songs unobtrusive and meditative, so insular yet provocative, it would seem a serious blunder to stunt their potency within such a sprawling full-length. But that’s precisely what Leland accomplishes, surveying a flat horizon to let its minimal-techno arrangements graze, thereby hiding a treasure trove of euphoric movements beneath the bulk.

It takes a lot of confidence in oneself to assuredly conceal their best assets, but confidence in one’s listeners as well. For those of us constantly on the move, hearing Leland in its full two-hour stateliness will be a rare pleasure; for my part I’ve retained the same protocol since my first listen – choosing a random point in the album to tune in each time. Fragmented though that method may sound, it in no way distracts from Harris’ integrated electro-acoustic compositions. Dub-inflected lounge permeates “Pensum” and “Picture Us” but, with the addition of atmospheric trumpet, these tracks gather a mood less attached to cold rhythms. In fact, Harris infuses most of these house beats with a fair share of organic accompaniment, whether in the form of mournful cellos (“Whether Is Was”), auxiliary percussion (“Of the Field”) or warm vocals (“Plays I Play”) that are peppered sporadically throughout. Restrained but increasingly critical, these sly embellishments are among the countless discoveries, afforded by Harris’ bold vision, that will eventually grab you.

As long as there are lengthy albums, there will be artists heralding themselves for creating something decidedly un-commercial. Leland’s something else entirely; neither bloated, narcissistic, nor weighed down in conceptual themes, Harris’ methodology is more concerned with creating emotional space than cramming a full-length to its brim. Named after Harris’ deceased father, it’s clear that Leland has no room for dance-floor excess. Shape-shifting movements in posh house music and pastoral techno have rarely felt this pure-hearted or self-assured.

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