Album Review: Active Child - You Are All I See

This whole album is one tragic love ballad. We may not always fully understand what Grossi is saying, but his drowned out desperation is the only touchstone we need.

A- | 8.23.11 | Vagrant | Stream | Mog | MP3 | Vinyl | CD

Active Child - "Hanging On" (MP3)

If R. Kelly, Bon Iver and Sigur Ros had an imaginary three-way and birthed a prodigy, his name would undoubtedly be Active Child (aka Pat Grossi). His knack for mixing sensual R&B lyrics, haunting falsetto and impeccably sequenced strings is downright devastating, all unneeded sexual imagery aside.

Grossi moved back to L.A. from Denver in 2008 to carve out his musical niche: the impossibly difficult pseudo-dubstep, high pitched harmony domain that very few have been able to fully master. After Mirror Universe’s Sun Rooms cassette and a British import single were released in 2010, we began to hear the echoes of distorted electronic frustration brimming throughout every inch of this stunning debut.

Though title track “You Are All I See” is an excellent starting point, bursting with layers upon layers of his beautiful harp strings, “Hanging On” is the sort of song Grossi could really hang his hat on. It begins with a solid underwater synthesizer punctuated by low frequency intonations that expertly meld into his heavenly shouts. The bass rolls in at the precise moment he drops his tenor to a sanguine baritone, welcoming us into his broken heart. The song sounds and feels exactly like its title. With each muffled drum machine and phased out melody we feel his carnal pain building inside until it has nowhere left to go but down. Sidebar: The White Sea remix takes that yearning into the stratosphere by incorporating a children’s choir and what sounds like one of the thousands of drums used in the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony.

T-Pain himself couldn’t have Auto-Tuned the opening line in “Playing House”, “Just cuz it feels good baby”, any better than Grossi and indie darlings How to Dress Well did on this babymaking, let’s-get-it-on number. The Flight of the Conchords classic “Business Time” serves as an excellent comparison for the way the dueling vocals eventually find a happy medium, and both are about well...getting down to “business”.

The album stumbles a bit when we get to “See Thru Eyes” and “High Priestess” which are both a little too vast and expansive for their own good. The trademark production value is there, along with the superb pipes, but they lack the same pops and hooks that are present in the beginning.

And, yes, in case you were wondering there is a radiant instrumental residing at Track #6. “Ivy” is all about showcasing Grossi’s ridiculous harpist bard qualities and reminding us just how meaningless lyrics are in the presence of a lush, complex soundscape.

For those of us who are suicidal and on the verge of frenzy, “Ancient Eye” may not be the best song to listen to after a bad day. “Shield and Sword” is just as bleak, replete with menacing laser-like tracks followed by a few clever bars of whimsical harp. The last song, “Johnny Belinda”, is some sort of tragic love song trapped in its own sea of confusion and Gregorian chants.

In fact, this whole album is one tragic love ballad. We may not always fully understand what Grossi is saying, but his drowned out desperation is the only touchstone we need. The one artist that immediately came to mind when I heard his voice for the first time is the post-modern moans of Scott Walker (of The Walker Brothers fame). Princeton featured Grossi in their video of The Walker Brothers “The Electrician”. It jumps back and forth between a lonely ballerina practicing in her warm insulated room while Grossi is pummeled to a bloody mess by the fuzz. Maybe this is how he imagines his musical world, one where beauty always triumphs over the beast.

Active Child - You Are All I See