‘I wish I could change enough to be yours’

Active Child – You Are All I See
(Vagrant, 2011)

Patrick James Grossi is a harpist, an ex-choirboy and the sole member of Active Child.  Introduced to the world via the Curtis Lane EP a little over a year ago, the project was unfairly lumped in with the ‘chillwave’ acts of last summer.  While that EP maintains a semblance of ‘chill’ throughout the six tracks, the differences between Active Child and say, Toro y Moi were immediately apparent.  The harp, the high falsetto, the live performance, the spirituality — this is a very personal, human project.  The electronic devices are merely protective coating, allowing Grossi to pour his pain over the audience like a warm, thick syrup without actually losing himself in the process.  There is a fine line between coming across as raw and honest and coming across as a sniveling crybaby.  On You Are All I See, Grossi manages to walk the right side of that line, even when he allows himself to entertain juvenile expectations of love.

Curtis Lane set the stage for some very high expectations around Active Child‘s debut LP and on first listen, the opening title track had me nervous.  Fluttering harps flying around like fairies in the sunlight, it was so pretty it hurt my ears.  Then that recognizable voice ‘If you think you’re ready, I will lead you now‘ guides us into the cathedral where it can occupy the space, trying to expand through stain glassed windows — possessing everything in its path.  This is almost too much to take. ‘you are all I see, you are all I see, you are all I see’  The object of his affection (obsession) cannot escape.  She wakes with a scream, dripping with sweat, only to look over and see him there next to her. ‘you know you can’t get away‘.

Hanging On cuts through the atmosphere with an r&b number that wouldn’t have been out of place on your favorite radio station circa ’86.  Continuing the theme of forced love, this track finds the protagonist questioning himself and his desire to stay in a one-sided relationship.  The r&b continues with Playing House, a duet with Tom Krell of How To Dress Well — a relationship that works out much better than the one in the story being told.  A standout track on the album, Playing House really highlights Grossi‘s divergent styles — going note-for-note with Krell while channeling Justin Vernon, James Blake and Antony and still managing to sound completely unique.

As we move through this album, we suffer the stages of grief.  DenialI want more, tonight, tonightAngeroh, you’re so damn cold  Bargainingprotect you as if you’re in a fire  DepressionI wish I could give it up‘ And finally we arrive at Acceptance, at the place where he admits he is not capable ‘I wish that I could change enough to be yours‘  This cycle plays out over various levels of synth, piano, harp, chimes and drum machines.  The inside artwork for the album shows Grossi sitting in a church by himself.  He is wearing a jacket and a scarf, which makes sense because the overall sound of this album is that of a church in a cold climate.  I am not sure it was recorded in such a church (or climate) but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out it was.* The entire album seems to follow you wherever you go, his voice dancing around corners and down the halls — the way an echo would in an empty house of God.

* update: the album was recorded at Slow Death Studios in Echo Park, CA

Active ChildHanging On

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