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Active Child

You Are All I See

[Vagrant; 2011]

By ; August 24, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

As the harp-playing, choir-singing son of a record company employee, Pat Grossi grew up immersed in music. The harp-playing, falsetto-donning adult version of this boy goes by the stage name Active Child, and he still cherishes the rather unusual skillset he picked up in his youth. On his debut LP You Are All I See, the celestial chimes that escape from underneath his alternatingly powerful and gossamer vocals sound like they’ve been plucked from the sky on a clear night. You Are All I See is vast, and it teems with instrumental eclecticism. The fingerprints of Grossi’s influences are all over the place, but they never overpower, and his keeling voice will make you forget all about them, at least for a little while.

If you didn’t know any of the details of Grossi’s childhood, you could probably infer them about a minute into the title track, “You Are All I See.” His voice slips out from behind a bed of harps and glassy horns, which climaxes into a hallowed repetition of the song’s refrain. This one doesn’t so much play as rain down on you. Next follows instant standout “Hanging On,” Grossi’s smooth tenor is quickly upended by his falsetto, and it flips back and forth so fluidly you could probably convince an interloper that it’s two different singers. The high points come early and often, as the perfectly sequenced guest spot by Tom Krell (a.k.a. How to Dress Well) follows on “Playing House.” The three opening tracks are mesmerizing, and while other parts challenge, it’s easily the best section of the album. Another highlight is the M83-esque “Ivy,” an instrumental that starts small and becomes absolutely enormous in just a little over three minutes, and it manages to sound complete on its own terms. You barely even notice Grossi isn’t singing.

Although it’s not necessarily a weakness, the lyrics don’t tend to veer far from the template of emotional and romantic turmoil. There are personal recollections (“See Thru Eyes”), explorations of the heartbreak (“Way Too Fast”) and the displacement of youth (“Johnny Belinda”). Grossi is still very young, but hopefully subsequent releases will expand upon his narrative themes. But really, it is a small bone to pick at this point, especially on an album flexing so many different creative muscles. Musically, the meshing of the organic and the electronic is similar to the styles that James Blake and Jamie Woon have embraced. But if Blake’s music flickers and twitches under the microscope, and Woon’s is made of glass, Grossi’s seems too big for your speakers.

Though the whole thing may be slightly too fastidious for some to stomach, there’s an intangible elegance to the way Grossi approaches his craft. The synchronicity of the arrangements are impressive from start to finish, but it’s Grossi’s voice that ends up stealing the show. The control he possesses and the confidence with which he imparts it takes an otherwise lush, ornate instrumental album and boosts it to near-great status. Both fluid and ornate, this is a densely produced, subtly assured introduction to an artist who has the tools to grow into something more.


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