It probably bears saying before I start that I never much liked Kevin Parker. I don’t especially mind Tame Impala that much, but he always seemed an extremely dull, pompous and overall rockist kind of person. As such I’ve generally, perhaps unfairly, blamed any of the defects of Melody’s Echo Chamber’s first LP on his production whilst crediting its high points to the artist in question. The same shuffling drumbeat, the same distorted synth sound; it’s good, often great, but it starts to wear thin after a bit. And if we’re being honest (and we should, shouldn’t we?), it’s fun to blame Kevin, because, like I said, I don’t like him. But I get the feeling that I might have been right that he was holding her back, because having finally ditched him as producer after sessions for an abortive second LP, as well as plenty of other trials and tribulations over the past 6 years, Melody’s Echo Chamber’s 2nd LP Bon Voyage is finally here and it is an absolute cracker.
The first thing you notice about Bon Voyage is how extraordinarily adventurous it is. Opener “Cross My Heart” (which you’ll already know if you were paying attention last year) is very much a statement of intent. It starts innocuously, if splendidly, enough, a beautiful piece of string soaked psychedelia which plays up wonderfully to Melody’s new breathy vocal style, but soon takes a number of bizarre twists, moving into a breakbeat section which winds up and down at will, switching languages, adding flutes and guitars which drop in and out of the mix and frequently sound as if they’re playing in the background on a transistor radio, before coming back to where we came in on the back of a killer guitar riff, then floating gorgeously off into the distance after about seven minutes.
This kind of formal experimentation can feel dazzling and, some have said, a bit tiresome: Do not listen to these people. They are not your friends. It does come across as a bit messy at first, especially on the dub/anime crossover ‘Desert Horse’ , comprising as it does a myriad of sound FX, rhythm shifts, autotuned vocals and other jolts and surprises. But listen to it often enough and eventually everything just seems to slot into place. Bon Voyage isn’t a record that you get into so much as find your way around; what at first seems like a bewildering and exhausting set of passageways quickly becomes an exciting maze with new, fantastical experiences around every corner.
Musically it veers around a little bit, most obviously psychedelia but also very much 60s/70s European, dipping into taut, funky Serge-rock on “Visions of Someone Special”, gentle Scandinavian balladry on “Var Har Du Vart?” and with plenty of Françoise Hardy-esque classical guitar all over the place. But it is its formal vision that ties it together. The thing it reminds me of most is The Beach Boys’ “Smile” project; art music gone pop in a way that’s both challengingly complex and and thrillingly entertaining all at once. The shimmering disco of 2014 single “Shirim” pops up at the end, returning to the distorted keys and shuffling drums, and though it still sounds pretty wonderful with its piledriver beats and funky, Chic-like guitars, it really serves to demonstrate how far Melody has come and how worth the wait this has been. Her vision on Bon Voyage clearly extends way beyond anything we’ve seen from her before and she’s still on the rise. I really don’t expect to hear a better record all year. Do not miss this!