Occasionally there’s an album that smacks you around the chops with its sheer brilliance. Not just a gentle slap engendering vague thoughts that you might listen to it again but rather a proper clump leaving you dizzy eyed and reaching for the replay.
“Portrait with Firewood” is one of those albums where Djrum aka Felix Manuel (production), Lola Empire (vocals) and Zosia Jagodzinska (cello) conjure a unique combination of sound across myriad genres. Drum and bass, jungle, jack hammering techno, classical, ambient – it’s all here, re-arranged and woven together with the utmost skill.
Setting out to create something “overwhelmingly beautiful”, Felix takes us on an intensely personal exploration. Whilst in the throes of introspective, solus album production across an “emotionally turbulent” 2017, his thoughts wandered to his own personal identity and relations to those around him. Partly through distraction, and partly through a search for answers and inspiration, he trawled YouTube for clips of artists he admired with Marina Abramovich and Francis Bacon resonating in particular.
“Portrait with Firewood” is, thankfully, not as troubling as Bacon’s biomorphic Surrealism or the claustrophobic tension of some of Abramovich’s work. Yet there is a dark beauty here, couched for instance in the distorted bass of ‘Creature 2‘, the morphing junglist gabber of ‘Showreel Pt 3‘ or the harsh breakbeat on ‘Waters Rising‘. There are deeply poignant and tender moments too – from the piano and cello of ‘Creature Pt. 1‘ to Lola Empire’s delicate vocals on ‘Sparrows‘.
With carefully chosen vocal samples to aid the filmic journey,”Portrait with Firewood” is perfectly sequenced with a narrative that sees ethereal, yearning sadness provide a raw, emotional undercurrent as juxtaposition to the hyperactivity of jump up rave. It’s this interplay that is the most skilfully handled of all and is perhaps the album’s greatest achievement.
As such, my recommendation to you good listener is to take yourself to a nice quiet space where you have a spare 54 minutes and listen to this album in entirety. It’s well worth the journey.
‘Portraits With Firewood’ is out now on R&S and is available in vinyl and digital formats, order a copy from Bandcamp.
2. Waters Rising
3. Creature Pt. 1
4. Creature Pt. 2
6. Blue Violet
8. Showreel Pt. 3
9. Blood In My Mouth