South South Million Wind Hand Caught in the Door
At first, it seems incongruent that South South Million hails from Detroit. The music that the duo makes under the moniker sounds breezy and carefree in comparison to the hard-edged, mechanical dance tunes which the Motor City is unequivocally known for, nor does it bear any direct resemblance to the timeless Motown legacy. Yet there is still something about the group's debut album, Wind Hand Caught in the Door, that feels inexplicably connected to the kind of rigorous work ethic, gritty aesthetics, and classic sensibilities that are also among its hometown's hallmarks. It's not that the music is necessarily at odds with itself, as each cut is impeccably composed and often flows seamlessly into the next, but most of South South Million's album sounds like the work of musicians attempting to create something new underneath the weight of the past. That sort of tug-of-war makes for a record that both excels and falters because of its ambitious displacement from its roots and its creators' constant need to recall vintage sounds.
Trevor Naud's and Daniel Clark's LP touches on so many genres all at once (classical, folk, soul, hip-hop, jazz, ambient, and post-rock, to name a handful), but somehow retains a relatively cohesive sound. Actually, many of Wind Hand's 16 tracks bring to mind the sunny beat-folk and '60s psych-pop appropriations of Bibio's Ambivalence Avenue, and the airy, dual-vocal harmonies tend to evoke the tender croon of fellow Detroit native Sufjan Stevens (as do the ambling flute and string arrangements). All apt comparisons would be complimentary to any new act, though South South Million doesn't subsist on similarities alone. Hummable tunes like the bubbly "Baff Speech" and instrumentals like "Silver Letters Written on a Page From the Book of Skies" exhibit the duo's inherent musical abilities and premier skill: making samples and live performances sound like one and the same. Throughout the album's 43 minutes of densely layered music, the listener is constantly confronted with the fact that South South Million is comprised of unusually talented artists who can jam and write songs with equal aplomb.
But what ultimately holds back Wind Hand is its relentless familiarity. No matter how many styles South South Million derives its sound from, and despite its members' wild proficiency, the music still sounds more like a masterful collage of influences than a wholly unique work. Take the dark, jangly grooves of "An Airman to Common Birds" and the jazzy rhythms of "Sunvest Goest to Last Chance City"—while the songs are certainly well-crafted and compelling to listen to, the beats sound as though they were torn straight from the Daedelus/Flying Lotus playbook. Even the beautiful "A Shower of Stars 1920" composition keeps one foot firmly planted in the world of Tortoise's retro-futuristic interludes. It's almost as if, in the midst of trying to mesh together everything they love about music all at once, Naud and Clark forgot to include themselves. Suffice it to say that South South Million keeps top-notch company in the "Recommended if You Like:" category, but it wouldn't be a shame if Wind Hand's follow up is built on less-traveled ground.
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