The Visual / Translation | CRASH Presents

The Visual / Translation | CRASH Presents

Translation is the recently released debut EP from Amsterdam-based duo ‘The Visual’. The title of the release and the band name itself – prior to any listening whatsoever – may come across (and did so to me) as fairly existential. Proclamations of intent? Prompting a translation of music into something else – a phenomenological interplay – hence the band’s name? Or…are they to comment on life’s innumerable corporeal/mental translations? The Visual perhaps see themselves not merely as musicians but as messengers. Artistry beyond solely sound to something perceptible between the ears? These capricious remarks and early conjectures show precisely the kind of uninformed critical disproportion that only a Literature student could spurt. That, or there is some substance to them. Enough. The music. How does it sound?

In short: melancholic, languid, but not lazy.

Simple rhythmic guitar work starts the record off. There is something cinematic about its slow procession. A pivotal scene. One of reflection, of isolation. ‘Whilst the birds sing and light up the sky, whilst the wind rages amongst the trees’ are the opening remarks, serving to both negate and heighten this isolation. They represent aptly the topic of the track. That being Life’s Rhythm, ‘nature’s symphonies’ and their ‘endless’ nature. From the imagery of vastness we can draw not a tranquility but its troubled cousin – a beautiful melancholy. I wonder if the task of the project is to translate this colossal world, its calm and chaos, into something that hits a collective consciousness. To harness the simultaneous slip and incessant evolution of nature. Guitar slides become audible. Not sloppy. Deliberate. Anna Van Rij is an effective and elegant player; higher licks, overshadowed by their own dissonance, enter from behind. The enunciated poetry turns to mumbles and the short track fades out through its titular words.

Van Rij serves also as the outfit’s lead vocalist, and starts the second track fairly monotonously. (Again, the flicking of low guitar notes set the pace; this time they verge on bass (think a more eerie rendition of Volcano Choir’s Byegone (if you haven’t heard it and thus don’t appreciate the comparison, I recommend you do so immediately after listening to this EP))). Face to Face deals with ‘a man that once knew his place’. The human element is immediately more pertinent. The man, via the inquisitive narrator, moves from his own rhythms (‘twice a day’) to the kind of painful, floating obscurity of ‘where do you want to be’. This introspective, harsh question is left with us. A droning atmospheric synthesiser (or is it a trumpet) asks it all over again. Translation underway. I initially took the content to indicate a relationship, both adored and lamented but struggling to stay afloat, – ‘I can not stay’. I wonder, though, if there is only one subject in the song. The words begin to accelerate on their acoustic ground, rife with similes and emotive storytelling. The narrator is equally shrouded in uncertainty, evident in the plead of ‘show me the way’. Van Rij, shortly after the two minute mark, highlights her range for the first real time, taking us higher in a four note ascent. Hints of Lisa Gerrard can be detected, not only in the remarkable voice but in the music’s pseudo-mystical intonations. Again the trumpets (I’m more sure now) play dark melodies. The same guitar that started us sees us to the next number. The content in between is heartbreaking and sublime in its simplicity.

Track three on the EP. Bass and the muffled crackle of a crash cymbal. The sound you would expect a digital device to give when you’ve deleted something upon reception of a better idea. Synthesiser, next. The beat is quicker, but only just. This instrumental passage – and the track at large – is a testament to the capabilities of Timon Persoon, the band’s second member. The lyrics, though in keeping with the existential tone of the record (‘I don’t know where I am going, who I am or who I should be’), seem somewhat lousy and unoriginal after the previous song. That said, they do continue the narrative of alienation and longing.

The song is called Lost in Translation. Shortly after the minute mark we’re met by processed percussion, somewhere between a rim click and a human clap, and for the first time the EP moves to groove. (The ‘somewhere between’ element is important). Guitar is prominent once more but is overshadowed by the reverb of the bass and percussion. A rising cymbal, an overturning swell. An epoch of change. ‘Girl or a boy…do I need to choose? I try to find myself besides those two’. Here less oblique in their deconstructive intent, the words mark another prominent concern of the band – identity, and more specifically the issue of gender (their Facebook page lists them as gender neutral). The futility of language is hinted at. This perhaps renders my lyric analysis completely irrelevant. The danger of presumption is another topic. With thematics cleverly coming together, the (mis)translation of identity is marked by the peripheral points of nature; we are back at the coastal-esque scene of the first track as Van Rij exclaims ‘free as the wind I can be’. Again, though poignant when considering the topic of in question, the songwriting appears to be a conglomeration of the sad and refreshing first two tracks, less laconic, and slightly less effective in its seeming recurrence. The imagery of duality, confusion and resistance is clever but, this time round, the musicality – the driving of the bass and the barely perceptible high-note piano – is more engaging.

Photo: Sarah Elize Van Rij

Track four starts with – you guessed it – guitar. Different, though. Almost Keaton Henson like (hear ‘Milk Teeth’) in its ironic sprightly course. ‘I sure ain’t no saint, but you should try to love yourself, before he tries to control your mind’. The relationship, be it between two or within one, has become still more grave, more tumultuous. Any clear or easy Translation once more threatened. Again Van Rij’s range is excellently demonstrated toward the mid section, mourning the fact ‘no one knows what to do’. The guitar pushes onwards and into an orchestral takeover, the likes of which you would expect to hear either in a pivotal scene of Black Mirror, or a masterfully odd Baz Luhrmann soundtrack. A seemingly incongruous and wonderful whistle ushers in silence. The voice comes back acapella, nudging us with the pivotal message – No One Knows. Translation is a tricky exercise if that’s the case. Such difficulty is manifest in the style and content of the songwriting.

The final song is called Offering Shadows. At over six minutes, it is the longest on the EP. As eponymously suggested, there is again precedence on the liminal and implacable: ‘to be unseen’. By now I am sold by the largely acoustic preference of the duo. The voice dominates the opening exchanges – it is reminiscent of a downbeat Everything But The Girl. ‘She hasn’t got much time…to run’ summons quicker guitar strums, which in turn accompany Van Rij to a more hopeful tone – ‘I need you in my life…I know I can make that happen’. A romanticism that has seemed either fractured or lost is revived yet immediately dampened by the desperation in the sound. The music after four minutes is simple but wonderful. Van Rij wavers alongside reverberation as the simple guitar chords drive the piece. The narrator becomes the subject. ‘I crawl on the floor’ is repeated three times. Perhaps down there, the voice, the shadow, scurries to seek a platform for more effective Translation. To elude the dangers and fears of the world.

 

Who knows. Honestly. It’s a good album, though. Listening to it numerous times may not aid an overarching understanding of its goals. I sense it is that very evasiveness the EP so longs to portray. It does so brilliantly.

 

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