Painted Girl - Familiar Trees of the North West
Familiar Trees of the North West
May 22, 2022
The doors of the long-awaited Midnight Store fling open with the tinkling of small, novelty bells. An immediately catchy synth sequence stretches from tinny frequencies to a lush, thick middle ground. The duo exercise a commanding grasp of the opening track with the poppy, retro bass line. This allows the store recordings to bubble up every now and again past the low-end rhythm. Jana Tyrrell‘s vocals also advance proudly, a welcoming tone assuring us that those bright aisles we are being introduced to have everything we could possibly need. The track has this wonderful commercial sensibility, Jana’s beautifully expressive vocals settling perfectly, the percussive aspects keeping an infectious momentum. Though Donor Lens fringe this straightforward aesthetic with ghostly fragments of vocals and field recordings, nodding toward more esoteric and engaging influences.
Freedom of Choice (It’s Your Right to Do It) pushes the album onto dancier pastures. A heavy kick drum conceals the sample hook until it unleashes itself. Scratching guitar and pitched sampling give that classic electronic style. Another solid bassline provides the intoxicating rhythm and melody. The track is an anthem to the wondrous feeling of authority one has as they step into their local store. The positive melody of guitar and synth soundtrack the packed shelves that open up before us. A small bridge at the midway point instils the slight panic that can beset the chooser at the range of options that are available. The existential fugue that occurs when you begin to consider just how much choice you have over the chocolate bar you want. Doesn’t that choice make you more imprisoned than free…? No matter! Donor Lens lets the beautifully crisp beat fire back in. An old school, resonant synth fires off a motif brimming with positivity.
Mirinda begins with an equally heavy percussive section juxtaposed with bright guitar notes that ricochet back with a gentle reverb. As the beat disappears, we hear a separate song begin to encroach on the one we are listening to. The emotive nature of the track that spills through is almost reminiscent of Caribou or even Burial, as that rich vulnerability of R&B inspired vocals is utilised in an obscure way. We launch back into the main part of the track, a thundering and explicitly loud bass emerges as the main focal point. Sending almost detuned notes flying past the beautifully toned synths. The emotive vocal track that reaches through from the other song stays for the entirety, playing with the notion that what we are hearing is a mesh of our inner monologue and what we are hearing around the store.
A hedonistic voice utters something at the beginning of Konbini 24/7, followed by the words ‘my convenience’. Donor Lens shift our attention to this two-word snippet as a glistening atmosphere of airy chords is built around it. From there, a breathtaking vocal sample is introduced. Using the sample’s melody and percussive annunciation, the artists create a track that is instantly addictive. Commanding synth notes fall into a deep rhythm, and more of the sample is revealed to us. What sounds like the start of a Japanese commercial plays, until we fall into the sample we heard before. The use of this short clip is incredible. It augments the track so much, pushing the emotional tinges included to the forefront of the listener’s experience. All Donor Lens need to do is chime in with soaring guitars that phase in and out of existence, let the track glide like it seems to want to do. Trappy hi-hat rhythms provide another facet to the beautiful and tear-jerking modern aesthetic that the duo seem intent to create. The emotive nature of the track is quaint, and it ends up one of the more melancholic tracks out of the 15 present.
Out My Head (A Love Bazaar)‘s initial feel brings us back to the shallow pastiche of convenience. Muddy synth keys slither out of the small, fizzling speakers as the hook sample is introduced. In this track, Donor Lens lean more toward an experimental methodology. The small snippet sample is chewed up and spat out at different pitches and tempos, the duo maintain a vague sense of rhythm as the speed of the fragment goes from slurring slowness to hyperactively fast.
Sharp arpeggiating synth begins Taking Stock, as we can imagine the almost endless backroom of the midnight store stretch it in front of us. A sunken bass-y sound slithers around underneath, conveying an atmosphere of uncertainty. As it is teased out ever so slightly by a clearer sound that grasps the clapped beat, we can hear that that uncertainty has instilled in it that longing for progression found in a lot of vaporwave music. The sounds are rich and nostalgic, and the melodic narrative is one that slowly lifts at the end of every bar.
Decadent guitar swirls on Another Night Astray, the duo pushing their penchant for emotive sound into a more freeform and organic format. From the ruinous echoes of the guitar comes another incredibly constructed vocal sample. The voice of Azeem Shah laments through a rain-flecked window pane. The corrupted nature of the sample almost feeling like we catch his voice through flashes of headlights against a dark and seemingly opaque window. Yet another bridge used as an insurgent into the main mood of the track, the background noise filters into focus, along with muzak-synth noodling. Stuttered guitar tones pervade the scene, the feel of which are reminiscent of the more emotively aware British indie of the late 2000’s, it’s almost as if we’re listening to a song from A Weekend in the City. The chilled store background music collides with the guitar and we burst back into the song’s hook. Synth notes twinkle through the rich swirl of sounds, the guitarists frisk their hands up and down the fretboards. The track doesn’t need to push to anywhere incredibly climactic, it retains this downplayed brilliance that pushes the listener onward at the midway point of the album. The duo kindly bring us back from our wistful listening with a cathartic tune played on lush keys.
Aisles and Aisles is begun with a more momentous and action-packed feeling, heavy kicks cutting into mellow euphoria. Jana Tyrrell makes another appearance as the omnipresent voice gushing from speakers all around us, promoting the midnight stores brilliance and uniformity. The balancing act that Donor Lens achieve is a feat in itself, dividing our attention between the fantastically delivered and affected vocals and the vibrant, triumphant instrumentation.
One Stop Shop undoubtedly evidences the Welsh-based artists drawing influence from their UK heritage in the sound. The house-y piano chords with all the gumption of a track from the Urban Cookie Collective, the canned drum samples with that same 90s rave culture energy as well. The track itself though, pulls back to that to a more 80s sound. A voice bleeds through made up of machine and algorithms, beautifully artificial keyboard sounds head up the melody that glows with determination and fun.
Shelves Stacked High reinforces the duos penchant for beautiful, crisp instrumentation. Sharp guitars pepper the edges the hook of the track, another ode to the consumerist paradise. The time that has gone into the album’s tracklist is apparent all the way through, but these shorter tracks serve as a reiteration. The fullness of the mix, the attention to detail in texture and pacing, the nods to any number of influential genres and sounds.
The commanding voice of what can only be the shop owner shouts the title of the track Turn the Fridge On. From there the icy cold synth melody glitters behind heavy bass that pushes misty breath out in front of us. There is even a tubular sound that stutters gently, as if shivering timidly in the blue glow of the refrigerator. Donor Lens pull in jungle influence in the searing drum samples that threaten to commandeer control of the track’s percussion, but the guiding hand of resonant pads and sturdy bass take the reins once again.
Packets augments the minor sounds of the track before into a more austere tone. The booming bassline hitting behind repetitive and tense percussion sounds. It begins to lash out of the of murk it enters through with high notes that soar out suddenly toward the middle range of frequencies. All the while, sounds and voices are being carefully layered on top of each other, creating a chaotic and almost frantic feeling.
A ballad dedicated to the polish beer Tyskie comes next. Morose guitar notes bubble up, partway submerged in some dark, watery cave. As soft percussion works its way toward the listener, a bass and guitar play out a floating duet. The track seems to be built around the initial guitar riff, but both the bass and keys pull it into a more improvisational affair.
Carrying on from the unstable sampling of the second track, It’s Hard to Describe (A Love Bazaar) begins confidently before hitting a snag causing it to repeat a multitude of times. This sample folds into lower frequencies before skipping on a little more. Both parts of this parenthesised duo stand out as tracks that pull from the sub genre of Eccojams the most. Though Donor Lens can’t resist using the broken down characteristics to help the burst forth with fully functioning instrumentation multiple times.
Stilted percussion before a thick synth motif starts to lift us off the ground into our finale. A solemn lead melody pirouettes through the narrow walkways of the store, warbling slightly in the sick, flickering light of the luminescent poles above the listener’s head. It is at this point that DATAGIRL lends a hand. Her voice breaching the thick instrumentation that has been built up. The vocals float up, the multi-layered nature of the voice conveying an artificiality. The voice of this store isn’t just one lone person, but the residual energy left by many walking in and out of its door. DATAGIRL’s feature expertly illustrates this as the words ‘Receive my soul’ reach out to us through the vibrant packaging and bright linoleum that stretch out ahead. Is the three word hook a cry for help from the aura that is trapped in the store, coupled with a reiteration of the pull of consumerist satisfaction? Receive my soul, purchase me and all my essence, save me from purgatory.
It is a fitting end to this unique journey through the Midnight Store. A cathartic closer as the shop doors close and we are spat out onto the pavement again. Midnight Store is the work of artists that are confident in their concept being fun and engaging, interested in exploring a range of styles whilst adhering to a distinct originality, and eager to provide the listener with an unforgettable shopping experience.