Dems – Muscle Memory (album) (Sew In Love Records)
It’s often said that the space between notes is just as important as the notes themselves – this is certainly true of Muscle Memory, the debut album from South London electronic trio DEMS. The cut-up beats, sustained notes, beds of ambient sound, and reverb-tails that feature frequently throughout the record are as integral to the songs as any chord progression or melody. However, wading through the atmosphere you’ll find 10-tracks choc-full of soulful pop electronica that’s sure to appeal to fans of SOHN.
Beautifully melancholic, the first couple of minutes of opening track Sinking In The Sorry revolve around piano chords and Dan Moss’ layered, R&B-flavoured vocal. But then -“boom!” – just before the two-minute mark, a huge, half-time beat drops along with sub-bass and pumping-synths giving the once fragile Sinking In The Sorry a sway. Moss then moves into a falsetto vocal while the song’s odd arrangement continues to fragment over the next couple of minutes. Both here and elsewhere on the record, there’s also a hint of Perfume Genius.
Sense of an Ending follows next, which we reviewed at the start of the month. Equal parts song and mood piece, the track features a clean guitar arpeggio, which sits atop of a beat-less, layered production made up of waves of icy-reverb and layered, equally atmospheric vocals, all calling to mind Port St. Willow (read our review of their Holiday album – one of our favourite records from 2013).
The excellent Wake offers the beats and blips of Thom Yorke’s The Eraser and some brilliant funky-bass playing along with Friendly Fires-esque vocal pop – in fact, throughout the record there’s an undeniable UK indie-rock influence rooted in the track. The album’s strongest pop tunes, however, follow next and all in succession: Made For Myself, Got No Brains, and the album’s heartfelt, but no less poppy, title track.
The hooky Made For Myself opens with a brass and vocal section before giving way to blipped beats, a clean guitar arpeggio, and an reverb-lingering, R&B-inflected vocal. Got No Brains is the most up-tempo track on the record characterized by the pitch-shifted “chipmunk” vocal work threaded throughout its verses. As can be said for the record as a whole, Got No Brains is expertly and creatively produced with some lovely, sleek touches (check out the snare sounds on this track).
The album’s gorgeous, heartfelt title track continues with the faster tempo but a party it is not; its chord progression form a lump in the throat while also featuring the most melodic and confident vocal on the record. Sublime.
The urban sounding Lioness is a sweet, hook-laden track with layers of vocal harmonies. Once again showcasing the trio’s knack for odd arrangements, the song’s final 45-seconds are just about dance floor ready.
On Never Have Never Will, DEMS return to explore the ghostly ambience and melancholy of Sense of an Ending. An beautiful mood piece dressed in James Blake style post-dubstep and where the repeated lines of “I don’t understand it, never have, never will” tug hard on the heartstrings. Continuing this is album highlight Desire – the most immediate track on the record. Stripped back to basics, the beat-driven Desire is also the most rhythmic and hook-laden number with Dan Moss’ falsetto on full display.
Heartfelt but rarely melancholic, at times solemn but never depressive, creative and interesting but respectfully pop, Muscle Memory is an accomplished, soulful debut album that deserves multiple plays in succession to really appreciate and absorb all the intricacies and nuances.
Listen to album closer Night Tales below: