The Slowest Lift – The Slowest Lift

4 out of 5

Label: VHF Records

Produced by: The Slowest Lift (?)

I hate this. I hate when I give something a precursory listen, and then a second, closer listen, and can’t get much traction with it. I identify reasons I don’t like it, and try to assess aspects of it a bit more critically – something to justify a lower score beyond just a flat opinion. And then I hear a spark on a followup listen – something I hadn’t caught before. I go back again. And then I start to love it. I really was turned off by The Slowest Lift’s debut album; several listens later and then several more – and I love it. And I hate that, because should I be going back and listening to every album I’ve disliked…?

I’ve been through these doubts before, though, and I circle back around to that initial need to circle back around for a second or third spin, even when it’s just to “confirm” my feelings: there’s something there, and while it may not result in the discovery of a spark, it means the album generally has more worth than I’m allowing. Meaning: I can’t just brush it off because it can’t just be brushed off.

The Slowest Lift – Julian Bradley, Sophie Cooper – is pretty impenetrable. I could probably decipher (presumably) Sophie’s ghostly croon over particular tracks*, and how they reflect track titles like Crystal Fracture, or Hi From the Skyline Swim, but I think this is a lark, pursued ‘neath the slowly reverberating waves of static and keys and electronics and haze. The lo-fi sound collage m.o. is not unheard of on VHF, and the addition of vocals may seem to sit Slowest Lift with groups like From Quagmire, but beyond some easy artifacts like the singing, there’s left to identify here as a “sound.” That was my problem with the album: it feels purposefully masked; clouded. It’s at a very low register, and, at first, indiscernibly changing. At the same time, the tracks aren’t exactly drone – they’re just slightly too shifty for that. So it neither commits to minimalism or trance, or breaks clearly enough away from that to qualify the music.

The B-side doubles down on this with EV Plus, getting more abstract and random – more notable loops, but still a stutter or two away from drone. Even after crossing the bridge into enjoying this approach, this track is a bit difficult to parse. But it also signals a change: the B-side is ultimately a noisier, dirtier affair, and its where I first caught the “spark,” with Extreme Cops and Punched playing into a distorted clatter that’s more accessible to me, while staying within the mysterious, and slightly haunting, confines of The Slowest Lift’s parameters. These tracks are also a buffer: to a Duran Duran cover. Now, I’m really not a DD fan, nor am I an appreciator of kitsch, but neither one of these factors in: this has lyrics and a fuzzy bass beat, but the track belongs to Bradley and Cooper. It fits wholly on the album, and even between these two harsher tracks.

Circling back around, a key was headphones. There are layers buried in this thing, and it does take some volume and closeness to suss them out. But once I was a bit more atuned to how slight shifts changed an entire dynamic, thanks to those comparatively louder end tracks, I could hear these same effects applied on the A-side, and then the whole record just blossomed. The boring became beautiful; the unchanging became undulations of tiny, wondrous perturbations.

If – like me – you have an ear and appreciation for outre music, but are used to being able to classify it in some way, The Slowest Lift (which, come to think of it, is a rather apt name) is a different beast. The duo are willingly blanketing their work, smoothing it out and washing it in several rinses of whispers and lo-fi hiss. It may not initially excite, but it’s absolutely worth giving it the time and space to generate a spark.

*Surprise – there’s actually a lyric sheet. And, pleasingly, this does not dispel the album’s appeal in the slightest: the words are on the wavering line between wishful and woeful, adding further mystery and an ominousness to the recording.