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13 January 2011

Album Review: Keith Canisius. This Time It's Our High.

Artist: Keith Canisius.
Album Title: This Time It's Our High.
Record Label: Darla.
Release Date: September 2010.

Keith Canisius is an American-born Dane, now living and creating beautiful music in Copenhagen, Denmark (When The Sun Hits recently interviewed him - read it HERE). He first came into the spotlight as one half of the duo called Rumskib, who's 2007 self-titled release on Darla blew the minds of gazers and dreamers everywhere. In 2008, with Rumskib on hold, Keith went on to release two excellent solo LPs - Ferris Wheel Makeout (2008) and Waves (2009). Somewhere along the way his sound was dubbed as "chill wave", and the moniker certainly fits the music - Rumskib's sound was a soft swath of dreamy pop, and even solo, the foundation of his music still has that dreamy, "chilled out" quality.

However, with each solo release, these dreamy soundscapes evolved far beyond simple dream pop. Canisius started incorporating elements of psychedelia and other experimentations into his already shoegazey-dreamy sound, creating more sonically adventurous songs; songs that were more challenging, with incredible depth, and essentially pushing the limits of his talents. As a self taught (!) guitarist, vocalist, composer, and producer, his talent for creating and composing music very much reminds me of Ulrich Schnauss (which is high praise in our book).

His huge talent and the further evolution of his sound is evident on his newest LP, This Time It's Our High. Within the first 10 seconds of track one, I pretty much knew I was about to get blown away. And I was right.

Out of the album's 9 tracks, there isn't a single dull moment or weakness. To me, one of the defining characteristics of a true artist is progression of sound with each release; to push the limits every time. Keith Canisius has consistently done this, and has topped himself once again with this LP. Impressed? Hell yes I am.

This Time It's Our High starts off with "People's Faces", a song that immediately pulls you in on first listen by it's sheer uniqueness. This new album shares plenty of qualities with Rumskib, but where Rumskib was breathy and soft, this solo album has attitude, swagger, and unexpectedness. The track starts off with a simple but catchy guitar riff that builds into nearly epic psychedelic proportions. Layers of heavenly effects, mesmerizing tape loops, superb beats, and amazing vocals all orbit the truly gorgeous dream pop chorus. Placing this record in a genre is utterly impossible. Is this shoegaze, dream pop, chill wave, psychedelia, or something else? The fact is, it's all of those, and more. It incorporates and then transcends all of these genres by the incredibly clever and deft way Canisius has combined them.

The second track, "First Tambourine Love", smoothly picks up where "People's Faces" left off (in fact, this album should be heard in it's entirety, start to finish, to get the full effect) and shares nearly the same basic formula as the first track, in that it starts off simply, and builds into a swirling soundscape of layered effects - a collage of sounds and genres. The difference from track one is that there is no straightforward dream pop chorus to centralize and ground the song. Instead, it takes you on a 6+ minute psychedelic journey with a looser song structure. One minute the beats are leading the song, the next fuzzy guitars, and the next incredible synth melodies. If you haven't caught on to this yet, multi-layering and creating sound textures are things Keith does exceptionally well. Considering that Keith is a completely self taught musician and producer, and quite a young one at that, this level of quality is beyond impressive.

Loops and vocal echoes are the driving force behind "Inner Blue, Outer Red". The shoegaze guitar sound woven with Keith's atmospheric vocals, layered effects and synth washes keep the listener quite riveted - not only because it's a great track, but because the incorporation of so many incredible and sometimes unexpected sounds and effects are endlessly entertaining to listen to. This can be said about every track on this record.

The middle of the record gets even more spaced out and psychedelic; the melodies are harder to discern, buried more deeply under deftly combined layers. However, if you listen closely, there is an incredible structure beneath the experimental atmospheres - a cerebral undertone buried under mesmerizing aural fireworks.

While some reviewers have said the album sags in the middle, I completely disagree. The dreamy, psychedelic tinge is the perfect nucleus for this album. The title track takes you on an 8 minute ride that you won't soon forget before transitioning into "Kill Your Systems For Earth", brimming with vocal loops and keyboards that make sure you get drawn in before the track takes on a life of it's own, changing everything from mood to tempo and back again.

"The Beach House", which smoothly transitions the listener from the experimental middle into less challenging territory, is yet another example of the multi-layered, tape looped soundscapes that are his forte, but with a definite dream pop edge to it that ousts the overt psychedelia and instead comes off as an exceedingly well crafted dream pop track. Gorgeous.

Keith Canisius. The Beach House.

Canisius' multi-tracked, celestial vocals are often compared to the Cocteau Twins (which I agree with) and the psychedelia tinged multi-tracking often gets compared to the Animal Collective (which I do not necessarily agree with, but that's probably a personal problem). His influences are audible in some cases, but to me, Canisius belongs in a class by himself, no comparisons needed.

Although this doesn't give justice to every nuance of brilliance the album offers, for the sake of trying to convey it's fundamental essence in words, let me say this: the entire LP can be loosely summed up by variations of the above mentioned techniques - starting a track with simplicity that builds into psychedelic layers of unique effects and beats, and/or songs that start off simply and then morph into clever and vibrant psychedelia tunes with no centralized melody, but instead vibrant with several melodies at once. You'd expect this to sound chaotic, but Canisius does it so well that instead it's a hypnotic ride through some of the most beautiful textures, atmospheres and songs I've ever heard.

These tracks lurk on the edge of many genres, not truly belonging to any certain one. Instead, This Time Our High transcends genres completely. It sounds like Keith Canisius, nothing else, no other genre - and it sounds startlingly incredible. His progression of sound, a heavier use of layered electronics, the experimentation, the unique atmospheres and soundscapes, the sheer freedom you hear emanating from these songs, among other things, puts This Time It's Our High in a class all of it's own. It is not only a must hear, but a most own. I'm telling you honestly that you are missing out on a work of musical genius if you don't hear this album.

Keith Canisius: You are fucking awesome. Never stop doing what you do.

Review by: Amber.