By Greg Salter
‘Debak Ine’, the opening track on John Talabot’s debut album Fin, builds slowly. It opens with samples of a jungle – birds and other creatures squawk as crickets hum and chirp, transporting you to the oppressive heat and dank greenery of a rainforest while also creating the vaguely unsettling ambience upon which the rest of the track is built. It’s a seven and a half minute opener, and it’s not until after the 4.30 mark that ‘Debak Ine’ really settles into a groove – before then, beats and melodies have come and gone and it’s only with the arrival of a (muted) 4/4 house beat that things really start to get going. Still, it’s a phenomenal opener and sets out what Talabot’s music is all about – euphoric elements from house, techno and disco are set down alongside a more introspective, and occasionally dark atmosphere across the whole of Fin. And there’s patience too – Talabot never goes for the quick, easy pay-off and the tracks on Fin follow the template on ‘Debak Ine’, building slowly, thrillingly and exquisitely as you listen.
Patience is something that Talabot probably knows a lot about – he’s been releasing tracks under this particular moniker since 2009 and has been working on Fin since 2010 (the album was initially going to be released at the end of last year). You can hear why it took him so long to deliver as it’s incredibly detailed, both carefully composed and sequenced, much like the work of other introspective electronic artists like James Blake and Nicolas Jaar. However, while they strip their songs away, leaving only the bare bones of bass, beat and voice, Talabot isn’t afraid of layering and building. As a result, Fin feels like a testament to his compositional skill as well as his perseverance – the title, he has said, comes from the moment when he realised that the process of making the record, and a particular period in his life, was coming to an end.
If Fin has come from a period of quite intense work, it’s important to note that it never sounds laboured or formulaic. The tracks sound energetic and vibrant, fluidly moving from one to the next, and often taking unexpected detours, such as into the paranoid techno and sampled screams on ‘Oro y Sangre’ – this translates as ‘Blood and Gold’, perfectly encapsulating the way Talabot often layers unsettling elements over references to balearic hedonism, like a dark cloud looming over a beach paradise. Talabot has said that he didn’t want to make an album that was just a collection of house 12s, and, as clichéd as it sounds, this is music that takes you on a journey or seeks to tell a kind of story as one 52 minute whole.
But there are still a few standouts, particularly the two tracks that feature Pional – we’ve already heaped praise on album closer ‘So Will Be Now…’ where Talabot builds on a Burial-esque vocal sample, creating something euphoric and haunting at the same time. It’s melancholic, but it keeps moving, right up until it clicks out poignantly at the end. There’s also second track ‘Destiny’, built on a more traditional, bubbling house beat and cascading vocal harmonies – it’s Talabot’s most ‘pop’ moment so far, though it shimmys with a little bit of moody uncertainty.
Fin’s closest cousin in recent years might well be Caribou’s Swim LP in that both records ebb and flow vibrantly, veering between approximations of pop songs and more abstract instrumentals. However, while Caribou’s album sounded like the work of an instrumentalist finally working out to incorporate dance elements fully into his music, Talabot sounds like he’s moving in the opposite direction, pushing at the boundaries of how a solo producer can make a record. Like Swim, Fin is also an emotionally affecting album – Talabot twists his clearly beloved influences into emotive shapes, moving your heart and your head as well as your feet. As a result, Fin feels still, even after so many listens, like a record not just to get lost in but also to emerge from, rather like Talabot has done – after the album finishes it remains difficult to shake off, surely a sign that we’ll be listening to this for some time yet.