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MJ Guider, "Precious Systems"

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cover imageAfter a bit of a long slumber, Kranky has resurfaced with the first full-length from New Orleans’ Melissa Guion.  Guion’s previous discography is a bit lean, as she has previously only released one cassette back in 2014, but she seems to have quite a fully formed aesthetic that will no doubt delight fans of the Kranky milieu.  In fact, it is quite hard to discuss Precious Systems without making favorable comparisons to Grouper, as Guion is quite a similarly enthusiastic proponent of hazy, reverb-swathed vocals.  Musically, however, MJ Guider is far more indebted to shoegaze and gauzy 4AD-style Romanticism, crafting propulsive and hook-filled songs that feel artfully hollowed-out and slowed to a narcotic crawl.

Kranky

For better or worse, the opening "Lit Negative" captures Guion at her absolute zenith, disrupting her languorous dreampop with a wonderfully massive two-note guitar hook.  She also embellishes her stark and hazy aesthetic with a groove that can sound almost sensuous at times, albeit still in her characteristically bloodless way.  "Bloodless" is definitely one of the best ways to summarize the MJ Guider vision, as nearly every choice that Guion makes seems intended to fuel an atmosphere of spectral detachment.  Correspondingly, her set-up is admirably stark and DIY, as these nine pieces were recorded with little more than a guitar, a drum machine, and a Roland tape echo box.  Naturally, such a palette lends itself quite readily to slow-motion bleariness and a few songs regrettably err into plodding goth-lite mopery.  For the most part, however, Guion shows a real knack for both hooks and atmosphere.  Precious Systems' strongest moments tend to always be those where Guion transcends her murky reverie rather than throws herself wholeheartedly into it.  When it comes right down to it, I want to hear an album by a human and not an album by an echo box, so I definitely prefer the moments where something forcefully emerges from the homogenizing and hallucinatory fog.

In some cases, that "something" can be as simple as a strong pulse, as the 10-minute "Evencycle" is little more than a disco thump and lush "locked groove" loop of Guion’s hushed voice and some understated guitar shimmer.  It never quite evolves into anything more, but the various components feel like they are gradually falling out of phase with one another due to subtle shifts in the beat.  It’s a neat trick, if an unambitious one.  The much shorter "Second Surface," on the other hand, eschews a beat entirely.  Nevertheless, it easily stands among MJ Guider's best work due to its gorgeously warm chord progression, heavenly vocals, and wonderfully hissing and soft-focus textures.  Some of the lesser highlights occur when Guion instead attempts to sound like a New Order that has been sucked dry by a vampire, as she does on the driving "Triple Black," adhering to a tight pop structure and unleashing an wonderfully echoey guitar hook.  The closing "Fiction Control" delves into similar territory with slightly less success, occasionally becoming over-cluttered, but eventually catching fire once the beat is stripped down to just drum machine claps.

For the most part, I quite like this album, despite its imperfect execution.  There is a definite vision at work here and a decent amount of hookiness to back it up.  The only real issue that I have is that Guion does not always play to her strengths and often seems content to merely fill a cool niche.  She is far more compelling when she balances her hazier, woozier tendencies with something a bit more visceral or sensual though, such as the bad-ass guitar swells in "Lit Negative" or the sleepily sexy groove in Green Plastic’s "Prima."  Also, Guion’s detached and bleary aesthetic frequently has a tendency to undercut her gifts as a songwriter.  I just want MJ Guider’s bleary, drugged aesthetic to be a springboard for something better and more distinctive rather than just an endpoint, I guess. Those minor grievances aside, Precious Systems is a legitimately solid album that Kranky fans will likely eat up.  There is a lot of potential here and the few songs where it is fully realized are a legitimate delight.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 23 July 2016 13:29  


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