Grawl!x (pronounce it “Graw-lix”) is the ambient dream-folk one-man recording project of multi-instrumentalist James Machin, who calls Derby, England his home. He used to be in a shoegaze band called My Psychoanalyst, but he’s been working on this Grawl!x project since last year and his debut record will be released on Valentine’s Day. It’s a stunning, sparse, multi-textured record that many reviewers are comparing to Bon Iver and also to Julianna Barwick. There’s a ton of piano, a bunch of acoustic guitar, some loop stuff, a very small amount of percussion, and Machin’s haunting vocals. There’s not a bunch of moving parts, but it’s really amazing. 2015 has gotten off to a roaring start, and this is one of my very favorite albums of the young year. I have a feeling that it’ll be near the top of my year-end list.
After the release of the album, Machin will be performing the songs with a full band in some of England’s most storied church venues. I got something in the mailbag the other day about this, and when I finally got around to listening to it, the first thing that popped into my head was that this would be excellent for the middle night of the 2015 Hopscotch Music Festival over in the Longview Center. That’s a church that functions as a venue for some ambient stuff during Hopscotch. I saw Julia Holter play there on the first night of the 2012 festival, and I saw something or other there the next year. It’s a strange venue, but I think this kind of thing would be perfect for it. I hope the stars align for this to happen during the 2015 festival this September. The lineup won’t be announced until April, but it’s never too early to get hopes up for some of the “below the title” acts.
I really recommend listening to the entire album without interruption, but this is one of the best songs on the album, and it stands alone just fine. For the record, this isn’t the “album version” of the song — it’s an earlier version. While my comments refer to the album version, they still apply here.
This is that song:
“Atlas Bear” by Grawl!x
I love the spacey sound in the intro. This wide-open sound and feel runs throughout the song, but there are couple of brief moments in the chorus when the piano part gradually gets big and the drums come in and it starts to feel a bit tight and restrictive. It’s much more exaggerated in the album version of the song than it is here. Just when it almost gets to be too much, though, it goes back to the wide-open stuff. It’s a careful and brilliant measurement of how “big” the song should get before drawing back.
The long, super-ethereal coda bleeds into the next song, which is a beautiful piano piece called “Heg Leah”. It’s a bit reminiscent of Rachel’s. You’re not sure where one song ends and the other begins. It’s a common thread in the album, and that’s why you should listen to the whole album without interruption. You won’t be able to do that until February 14, but until then, you should listen to this song over and over again.
For extra credit, check out the video for the song here:
The multimedia publisher Time Travel Opps is releasing the album on February 14. They made just 250 copies of the vinyl pressing. You can pre-order that or the digital version from the Grawl!x bandcamp page here. Seriously. Do it. You’ll thank me later.