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Pale Blue: The Past We Leave Behind

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The paradigms of music industry fame have shifted so much in the last decade or so that now, as well as superstar DJs, superstar remixers and superstar producers, we have superstar label heads too. Mike Simonetti is one such figure, best known as the co-founder – alongside Johnny Jewel – of the Italians Do It Better imprint, and before that as the boss of punk/ noise outlet Troubleman Unlimited, but his latest move sees him taking centre stage in a more traditional way: by making music of his own rather than helping other people to get theirs heard. The Past We Leave Behind is the debut album from Pale Blue, Simonetti’s box-fresh duo with Silver Hands vocalist Elizabeth Wight, and although it just happens to be the first release on his new, post-IDIB venture – a joint enterprise with Captured Tracks’ Mike Sniper called 2MR (Two Mikes Records) – it’s much more than just a vanity project or extravagant advert for the newly minted label. In fact, Simonetti has crafted an effortlessly epic record that could cause his old pal Jewel a few sleepless nights, one that draws together the producer’s myriad influences – dance music, ambient atmospherics, noise-, drone- and dream-pop – and presents them as a beautifully realised long-form sonic fantasy to rival the best of the IDIB catalogue. With it’s glistening Italo disco cuts (the gently percolating title track and sinister, distortion-drenched “Embrace”) and spacey synth workouts (“The Scars”, “Rain”) The Past at times feels like a successful attempt by Simonetti to genetically modify his old label’s trademark sound; indeed, it’s tempting to view Pale Blue as “Simonetti’s Chromatics”, but the smallest of details can make a big difference and Wight’s vocals are unabashedly impassioned, smouldering where those of Ruth Radelet or Glass Candy’s Ida No chill with studied detachment, making this another animal entirely. It’s slicker too, a futuristic, 3D sci-fi movie rather than a grainy ’80s slasher flick, and roughly half of the album pays loving homage to more contemporary dancefloor styles: hypnotic Chicago house on “One Last Thing”, skipping Kompakt-esque electro-pop on “The Eye”, throbbing techno minimalism on “Distance To The Waves”. There’s even a loopy, thumping cut & paste sample collage (“The Math“) that sounds like the Avalanches trying their hand at Field-style happy trance which – somewhat surprisingly – works brilliantly. There are no obvious singles (an intentional move, apparently) but that doesn’t stop any of the tracks from being utterly engaging, and – perhaps thanks to Simonetti’s experience behind the decks – the album ebbs and flows for its hour-plus duration like a DJ set you just can’t tear yourself away from. With any luck, Johnny Jewel might have a competitive streak and be sufficiently motivated to finish the new Chromatics and Glass Candy albums he keeps promising, but even if not we should consider ourselves spoilt: regardless of whether or not Italians really do it better, The Past We Leave Behind is a master-class in how it should be done.
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The Past We Leave Behind is out now on 2MR/ Captured Tracks; check out the title track below.
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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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