When Blue Hawaii do crawl out from the Montréal underground as they quite categorically will with their sophomore full-length, Untogether, there will commensurately undoubtedly, I assure you be this one comparison to plague them forever more. And that will be with one Claire Boucher. It’ll be lazily articulated and repeatedly expressed, and it will from then on always be there. Yes, Raphaelle Standell-Preston – who sporadically floats away from BRAIDS to combine with Alex Cowan in becoming Blue Hawaii – can sound vaguely reminiscent of Grimes, as she unquestionably does at times during album opener Follow, her insouciant coo floating blearily about wicked ticks and thalassic undulations. Though the only truly cognitive parallel between the two is that both are signed up to Arbutus Records – perhaps Canada’s most pioneering label. They sit beside one another on the roster and though it is only out of alphabetical antecedence, it feels somehow telling that Blue Hawaii should perch right at its apex. For Untogether is an irresistibly captivating recording, and is that bit more carefully considered, though above all better even than Boucher’s purported opus, Visions.
There, I’ve said it.
And if you’re in need of cajoling into that same persuasion, give Try To Be even a solitary spin: an instantaneously crystalline conflation of lapping acoustics, cloud-like wafts of scuffed beat and Standell-Preston’s inimitably exceptional vocal, it’s about the most acute continuation of the classical schooling to have been handed down by our forebears ever to have been transposed into the more contemporary pop context it is here contained within, though never confined to. This may sound like lurid hyperbole, though it’s genuinely breathtaking. This particular track just ticked on over to 72 in my iTunes play count, and it’s yet to return that initial gasp it first snatched from my still agape gob. So to delineate, it epitomises that keen ear for timeless, precise melody with which every previously inferred past master was endowed; that immaculate dexterity prized only by the deftest of modern-day producers; and is topped off by a quite supernal voice which flitters elegantly between wilting eccentricity and the wilfully operatic. Prior to hearing this, I’d thought BRAIDS’ Peach Wedding to be that most musically jubilant of recent compositions, though this makes that sound like a not particularly picky finger buffet reception down any which local registry office.
So too the album’s title is of inordinate interest: Untogether. Uncertainty has, at least to those more intrusive types among us, always enshrouded the Blue Hawaii project. Are Standell-Preston and Cowan amorously involved with one another, or do they purely share in that most intimate of closely bound musical affinities? Its artwork portrays the two of them embracing, though Standell-Preston has only a spectral opacity to her. What, oh what could it come to signify? Ultimately, it of course shouldn’t matter and that it is of any concern whatsoever is a somewhat puerile symptom of the now endemic cult of celebrity: in that same way that we feel compelled to uncover absolutely any and indeed every piece of information we can get our grubby paws on (‘raphaelle standell-preston age’ and ‘raphaelle standell-preston boyfriend’ are often among her top four Google searches), it is essentially irrelevant and extraneous to the appraisal of Untogether. Though at that same time, there’s a closeness articulated in the overriding claustrophobia of the album – one which is warm and inviting, rather than repellent as it can so often sound – that not only somehow renders the duo that bit more enigmatic, but in fact also further augments the intrigue.
Thus most pertinently, it accounts for a sense of unshakable amity: the muggy, Arabian ambience of Sierra Lift (which incidentally, again mirrors refracted bits of Boucher this time grooving away to Gang Gang Dance) and the dewy Sweet Tooth, sugary as a Maple Sucker both intimate toward this. Elsewhere, Daisy cross-pollinates sinewy bass lines with contorted vocals that waver between R’n'B and classic Warp tones with irrepressible flippancy, whilst Flammarion recalls the cruddy hip hop proclivities of compatriots Purity Ring. Though again, the correlation only serves to illuminate how far ahead of their every contemporary Blue Hawaii are at the minute, as it weighs in somewhere infinitely heavier, and with that superior to anything encased in Shrines.
The pair leave no other questions unmarked, however, for this is an offshoot of that most decidedly experimental variety. You thought BRAIDS was left field? This one falls clean off the scale by comparison, and as such it’s at times so new and unusual that it becomes quite difficult to adjudge it with much lucidity. Though eventually punctuated by the nebulous amorphousness of Reaction II and the tepidly bloopy, balladeering gloop of The Other Day, the prevailing impression is one of admiration. It’s tinged with confusion and a smidgen of disbelief still, not least at how Untogether sticks together quite so well (indeed it’s a wonder in itself that even parts one and two of In Two do so, given their stark contradictions in their respective sonic aesthetics) but more so at how this effort has come to exist. It is, to my ears, the sound of the future. One which carefully cherry picks from the past, and cleanly reflects the human beings behind it. And indeed it is one which could in turn yet take them almost anywhere.
Released: March 4th, 2013 [Arbutus Records]