Nottingham duo Felix delivers their first album, You Are the One I Pick, as Kranky’s final release of the fall. Curiously, there’s very little in Kranky’s discography that compares to this. While the label has been diversifying its sound over the last 5 years or so (I’m thinking of Out Hud and Bradford Cox’s Deerhunter and Atlas Sound projects), they usually don’t delve into things that sound as clear and intentioned as Felix, instead favoring the open-ended and textural. Felix is mainly comprised of piano, guitar, percussion, voice, and cello, and while the drums and cello do provide some texture, the guitar is picked with purpose, the piano rings clear, and you can understand every word speak-sung by Lucinda Chua. The results are very refreshing, but difficult to pinpoint according to any sort of genre descriptors. The best descriptions come in the form of bizarre imaginational juxtapositions: early Cat Power mixed with Soul Coughing; The Arab Strap & Nico; a Feist and John Cale collaboration. Of course, this loss for words is the sign of a good thing – an artist arriving with a debut which sounds both singular and mature.
The most distinct aspect of Felix is Chua’s vocals and words, and the music more often than not compliments and colors what is happening vocally. These are the kind of songs that probably only make sense in a literal way to their author, but which leave an unmistakable impression. Sometimes she uses the cadences of an auctioneer, while others she sounds like a child free associating to herself. The phrases she sings cover domestic concerns, flights of the imagination, and plain old observations, and are more poetic than communicative. Still they add up to an affecting if somewhat ineffable result, as you feel like you’re traveling along in someone’s brain as it flits throughout a day. The repetition and monotone-ish delivery are trance-inducing, and the accumulation of words and ideas leave an impression of a consciousness aware of small details and broad truths, sad to be stuck in routine but happy to observe it in minute detail.
There are no instrumental solos, jarring tempo changes, slow builds, or electronic effects. But the music follows its own muse, as content to change shapes as it is to lock into repeated figures. No instrument really takes full command, the instruments coexisting in tasteful respect for each other’s movements. The piano flutters and flourishes with slightly off-kilter phrasing, as on the elegantly playful “Death to Everyone But Us” and the enchanting daydream “I Wish I Was a Pony”. Guitarist and drummer Chris Summerlin does the same with his guitar on “You Are the One I Pick”, and takes command of “Ode to the Marlboro Man” with some Spaghetti Western-inspired fret work. The middle of the album keys down for the calm trilogy of “”Where Is My Dragon?”, “Waltzing for Weasels”, and the dramatic “What I Learned From TV”, before ramping up with an actual drum beat on “Back in Style”. Then “Bernard St.” and “Lifter” come in sounding like laments reminiscent of Moon Pix-era Cat Power when Chan Marshall was backed by The Dirty Three’s Jim White and Mick Turner. The album ends with “Song About Zoo”, with Chua singing in a slightly more expressive voice amid sparse piano and cello. The tracks all share a feel while each has its own distinct personality, and the tracks seque into each other seamlessly, making for an album which flows amazingly well, never stopping for silence between tracks.
All in all, You Are the One I Pick is a compelling and enjoyable listen which, at 35 minutes in length, is smart not to overstay its welcome. This duo Felix is crafty and intelligent, and don’t need effects pedals or post-processing to get their point across. There is mystery and elegance in the marrow of this music, and I imagine this record will prove to stand the test of time, reserved to be pulled out for the perfect accompaniment to just the right brooding but whimsical mood.