WVAU Top Music of 2013 (So Far): Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory’s Elements of Light

Published May 28, 2013 on WVAU.org

It may be bit early for “Best of 2013” lists, but it’s the middle of 2013 and we’re excited to share our most-repeated new albums from the last six months. This week, read about some of WVAU’s favorite records released in 2013.

Daft Punk sought to break the electronic musician mold, filling Random Access Memories with live instrumentation, most notably from the funkiest and sharpest guitarist of all time, Chic’s Nile Rodgers. For a robot duo so highly praised for their innovation in electronic dance music, much of their newest record’s acclaim is due to the contributions of their human collaborators.

Though far less hyped, German minimal dance producer Hendrik Weber was doing something similar earlier this year, under his Pantha du Prince project. He first experimented with bells on “Lay in a Shimmer,” the lead single off his 2010 record Black Noise but couldn’t let go of the chimes. Weber partnered with Norwegian percussion ensemble The Bell Laboratory to create Elements of Light, released in January this year by Rough Trade.

The flowing five-song composition balances soft twinkles and glaring clangs, occasionally picking up with a 4/4 kick drum to remind you this is the work of a techno producer and not a forward-thinking church choir. The songs seamlessly change, losing all concept of time over the record’s 40-minutes.

The bells — including a three-ton carillon (a contraption that chimes bells similarly to pressing a keyboard — see the “Spectral Split” video), gongs, choir chimes and hand bells — all sound as if from an earlier era, but mix perfectly with the pulsing electronic elements of today, and the chronological disconnect goes unnoticed. The featured xylophone, especially on “Spectral Split,” serves as sort of a bridge of the two types of sound.

It’s not a perfect record, but it’s a unique, dynamic and interesting listen. Neither 100 percent ambient nor totally danceable, it’s worth sitting back and soaking up the atmosphere, but the heights of “Particle,” “Photon” and “Spectral Split” will get heads bobbing.

I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say I listened to this record for three months straight, scheming when I’d next be able to listen to it. Writing this now, I find myself hitting repeat. Hearing this album performed live and in its entirety on May 29 at West Park Church in Manhattan was transcendental, as was watching it performed on the massive, elaborate setup (my suspicions of the presence of a steel drum were confirmed!). There was no other choice for my favorite album of 2013 so far, and I’d be surprised if another record affects me as much in the next six months.


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