Dive Index | Mid/Air (Neutral Music)

cd_dive-index.jpgMid/Air, their second album, is clearly the work of sparklers, of inspired, disciplined musical artists who were lit up in the studio and radiating in all directions.







There are times when I think electro-pop music is the most divine genre there is. Contrary to what many people say, not everyone can run their hands all over some awesome new synth, adjust a few settings on their laptop, edit the mistakes out of their less-than-stellar vocal and come up with something transcendent. Sure, thousands of young ‘uns have a smidge of talent and can make you think their particular addition to the glut of releases out there is worth your time, but you can easily tell ’em from the sparklers (my pet name for artists who really deliver the electronica goods).

Sparklers have a sense of urgency about what they do. They’re not afraid of all that state o’ the art technology, and they don’t get intimidated by the cluttered, changing marketplace or the unlikelihood of scoring a big hit. They’re intrigued by the options available in modern music-making, they’re willing to experiment and explore, and they really care about sound quality. They’re like jewelers, only they work with instruments and overdubs rather than gemstones. But polish and pride play a role for both.

Dive Index, a collaborative project headed by New York-based producer Will Thomas, is the sort of wondrous electro-pop that prompts such musings. Mid/Air, their second album, is clearly the work of sparklers, of inspired, disciplined musical artists who were lit up in the studio and radiating in all directions. "The music is less written than sculpted," says the press release. "Nothing is wasted in the song structures and the material is delicately formed and layered, thus providing the brightest of spaces within to tell the stories." Indeed.

There’s something so pristine and prismatic about the 11 tracks on this album that you almost feel your senses being fine-tuned as you listen. "Sculpted" is the word for this elegant sound, alright. Both acoustic and electronic instruments were employed throughout, and several different singers appear, including Natalie Walker, Merz, Ian Masters, and most memorably, the luminous Cat Martino on five songs. All the vocals are terrific, but Martino has an understated grace that’s especially well-suited to these compositions. On "The Promise Room," "Water in Our Hands" and "Come Tell Me," Martino’s a key ingredient on some of the most soulful electronica of the year.

That first track has the same sort of cozy lushness Björk was after on Vespertine, and Martino sounds absolutely at home amid the layered sonics. "Water" uses haunting flugelhorn, gorgeous minimal piano and Kevin O’Donnell’s artful drumming to wrap Martino’s voice in one of the most effortlessly sensual tracks I’ve heard in ages. And this glorious soundscape of a record even features the name "Eno" on it, only it’s Brian’s more classically trained brother, Roger, contributing an elegant string arrangement to the lovely closer "The World is Kind." Just another example of the kind of pedigree we’re talking about here.

The mix of organic and electronic elements is simply peerless. I get asked a lot what kind of music I most like to listen to, and I’m likely to mention this beautiful recording next time that happens. Dive Index have made a crystalline example of how bracingly good electronic pop can be, when it’s conceived by artists with a sense of pride to match their sense of wonder in the studio. DIY-ers and Sonicbidders, listen up. A | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Velvet Belly, mellower Björk, Efterklang

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