Album ReviewsReviews

A different animal – Howling “Sacred Ground” album review


by Eric Evans

The Acid’s, Liminal, was one of the very best albums of 2014: nuanced, confident, deliberate, hitting notes similar to early Weeknd and Rhye, but definitely doing its own thing its own way. A huge part of The Acid’s peculiar charm is the forlorn romanticism of singer RY X. His restrained, breathy croon seems to carry secrets with it, and all 12 Howling tracks benefit from it as much as anything on Liminal. Which, really, you’d expect – there’s a lot of the same DNA in both releases. But while The Acid had an irresistible single in “Fame,” it’s Sacred Ground that, front to back, sounds more approachable. Frank Wiedemann and RY X have managed to hint at one thing yet accomplish something else, and this thing they’ve made could easily take off. The idiosyncrasies that made Liminal so appealing to some also forced others to hold it at arm’s length. This debut Howling album is by no means commercial, but there’s little here to discourage it from crossover success, similar to that of Röyksopp circa Melody A.M.

That’s not an insult. The triple punch of side A of Sacred Ground is potent: “Signs” begins with a piano line that could take it into Brechtian whimsy a la The Dresden Dolls, but instead comes closest to hitting the sweet spot owned by The Acid. It’s something of a gambit, leading with the track that sounds most like a different project and there’s a strong sense of deja vu attendant to it’s stark beat and vocal. But ultimately it serves as a transition from one project to another. The baseline that opens “Stole the Night” immediately stresses the differences between the two projects. Sacred Ground is more of a dance floor record, and by “X Machina”’s The Hurting-era Tears For Fears synth intro, it’s clear that this Howling is a different animal entirely. “Short Line” would fit seamlessly into a playlist with Documentaly-era Sakanaction; “Quartz” is going to log mileage as a go-to, after-hours jam, as clubs wind down the night; “Forest” teases an almost 8-bit vibe, but mainly serves as a percussion showcase, and stays interesting throughout its almost 8-minute length.  It’s a very, very danceable album without ever pandering to dance floor clichés.

Aside from two brief interludes of studio clicks and comments accompanying some synth washes, each less than a minute long, only “Zürich” deviates from the record’s overall danceability. Looped chimes and bird chirps over synth chords seem to be building toward something, but never quite resolve. Just as the track seems to crescendo it slowly fades, retreating as it accumulated, a palindromic oddity.

Sacred Ground will absolutely satisfy fans of downtempo electronic music. RY X’s soulful vocals anchor the songs here just as they did on Liminal. If you loved The Acid, Howling should be an automatic purchase. If you loved “Fame” but found some of the other tracks – “Creeper” for example – too confrontational, this might just hit the spot. It lacks a single breakout track, but maintains a high level of hookiness and groove. Try Sacred Ground and see if you’re moved. If so, take the plunge.

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