ALBUM REVIEW: Alex Banks “Illuminated”

By the end of 2011, Brighton-based Alex Banks had already distinguished himself as a DJ and producer with distinctively complex and spacey live sets as well as a smattering of gorgeous remixes (Bonobo, Husky Rescue). His debut full-length, out June 2nd, has been two years in the making, and it shows: Illuminated is a meticulously crafted record, with beats that escalate and mellow, moods that warm and cool, and subtle textural intricacies that demand an immersive listen.

At twenty seconds shy of an hour, it’s a pretty hefty collection, with a full spectrum of instrumentals. Some of the loveliest moments on  Illuminated come when Banks juxtaposes a pulsing beat against a string section, or highlights an instrumental melody with featured vocalist Elizabeth Bernholz’s pristine soprano. These revelations usually come from the combination of opposite effects. Conversely, when the album is at its most interior–in the middle section of Illuminated, somewhere around “Initiate,” “Lights,” and “Phosphorus”– its playfulness dials way down, and the music is too clean and rigid, too controlled. The album’s early tracks have great surprise twists, like the spot in “All You Could Do” wherin Banks layers his Bach-ish acoustic guitar arpeggios over Bernholz’s whispery vocal line as the rhythm builds to a sparkly crescendo. It’s awesome. Which makes it all the more disappointing when other parts of the album don’t live up to it.

In what’s perhaps a skill learned from his DJ career, Banks knows the importance of letting music absorb you. His process of recording the album consumed him, just as playing it will consume a listener. When Illuminated feels restrictive, it’s because its inwardness becomes too single-minded to know when to stop grooming the music and allow for coincidence and experimentation.

Illuminated will drop on June 2nd, and will be preceded by the All You Could Do EP, which will be available digitally and on 12″ vinyl next month. Check out “All You Could Do,” my favorite track off Illuminated, below!

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