14 March, 2008

Just The Architect

If I may, I'd like to bend your ear briefly, to vouch for the music of a talented man. Just The Architect is the project of one Johnathan Chan, who arms himself (not necessarily) nightly with guitar, keyboard and violin to do battle with those creative urges.

Now, I'll have to be honest, I've known Chan a little while and been hearing his creations for almost as long. I was fortunate enough to see "Aky and the Architect" play an ultra-exclusive set (!) and they sounded great. I'd have to say, though, that it's only just lately I've realised that no-one's playing at music here...

A quick list of comparisons would have to include Final Fantasy, Patrick Wolf, The Decemberists, Grizzly Bear and Bat for Lashes, though obviously influences don't stop there. And Chan'd be among the first to admit he's worn his influences on his sleeve at times; a personal favourite, Melodrama, shimmers and rips with Owen Pallett-worshipping violin, while Avast!'s lyrics are hitting upon ground familiar to fans of Pallett or Meloy, thematically at least.

Well, easy to say, but this is no one trick pony. For starters, the vocals are only a recent addition to JTA's repertoire, and they've begun to add new dimensions, to say the least. Transmuting trans-atlantic influences with a mediating British accent, Chan with vocals is a whole different beast on tracks like BC and Tinseltown Tongues, which are led by choral intonations.

Being lulled and soothed is one thing, but to be shaken up by Cadet Force is even a step further; these don't just demonstrate a voice, but even more a compositional step beyond influences into uncharted territory. On Tiger Vs World, with an incredible chanted transition, we literally hear JTA snarl for the first time.

It's obviously come full circle when you take in Fields; the strong violin part's still there to get us going, but more than that, the track progresses in its very own way as we first flirt with minimalism, then a low, swelling, pulse which evokes some form of otherworldly nature documentary, less Boards of Canada than American Gothic.

If this feels a bit less snug, the difference is rejuvenating. By the time we get round to his remix of Scott Davis' Rise, we're hitting the depths of melancholy as Chan lends terrifically sensitive touch to the subject. For my money, it's one of his best efforts so far.

I won't claim JTA's material is all perfect, but then, I don't think it's hit its heights yet. Some tracks come on a bit strong, while others hold out too much. It can hardly be an easy equilibrium to reach. Regardless, there's something special about hearing a musician (especially someone you know) steal away from their influences, bit by bit, and striking out their own notes.

Whether it's with creepy minimalist compositions, deftly handled remixes, or lo-fi alt-pop songs, I have a feeling Just The Architect will before too long come fully into its own, and that could be absolutely terrific.

Between Myspace and Last.fm, virtually all the tracks mentioned are freely listenable/downloadable.

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