The second full-length release from vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Ward, better known as Tropics, Rapture builds on 2011’s lushly produced Parodia Flare to create something equally atmospheric, if rather more reserved than its title might suggest. Opening track and lead single ‘Blame’ establishes the album’s intriguing combination of reticence and expansiveness, as Rhodes pianos, gently bubbling analogue synths and flickering snatches of noise provide the bed for Ward’s gentle vocal, while loose but forceful percussion brings momentum. Looseness is a watchword across the album, which is propelled by richly textured percussive arrangements that ebb and swell as organically as the melodic components. While the arpeggiated synths, furtive glances toward pop music and general air of understated male longing have something in common with Junior Boys, the world of Rapture is a far cry from the chilly precision of their quantized rhythms.
A governing influence here appears to be Arthur Russell, who Ward cites as an inspiration. Rapture lacks Russell’s unpredictability and guileless invention, but it shares his fascination with echo and textured ambience. Like many of Russell’s pieces, the songs on Rapture seem to rest upon beds of soft ambient noise, feeling as if they are happening in particular spaces, rather than simply emerging from a void. Ward, like Russell, uses reverb and delay to play on ideas of both containment and openness – themes that are reflected in his lyrics, which are alternately gnomic and exposed. The opening track’s refrain of “blame me for all of this, just come back home” feels specific and affecting, while the lone repeated phrase “Should have known better” that makes up the entire lyric of ‘Torrents of Spring’ is compelling precisely because it is presented without context.
Throughout the album, Ward’s voice is more prominent than it was on Parodia Flare. Indeed, much of the final track, ‘Not Enough’, is given over to swathes of layered vocals with a minimal keyboard accompaniment. Ward rarely rises above a gentle croon – his voice seems less in dialogue with the music than floating on top of it. The result is a certain uniformity of delivery that can feel lacking in dynamism, but that pays off in small variations – as in an affecting moment on the title track, when he briefly allows his vocal to drop to a whisper. At other points looped vocals are intriguingly used to create emotional intensity through repetition rather than modulation.
Rapture is nothing if not a mood piece, and the songs can often feel like variations on a theme –often quite subtle variations at that. As well as the evenness of his vocal style, Ward has a number of production tricks that can lose their impact through frequent repetition – for instance his technique of subtly building tracks to crescendos and then stopping them abruptly to leave only a ghostly reverb trail in the ether. For all that, Rapture is an involving and enveloping listen. It catches a specific mood and holds it – listeners in search of something subtle may find it hard to resist. David Turpin
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