The versatility of synthesizers has allowed a whole subset of bedroom artists to appear, creating a liberated wave of often abstract electronic music – no doubt bolstered enormously by the appearance of sites like Bandcamp – which allow total immediacy and autonomy. TALsounds – née Natalie Chami – is one such DIY sound explorer. With a not inconsiderable discography of small-run cassette-only releases under her belt, ‘Love Sick’ marks Chami’s first wider release under the TALsounds moniker.
Despite being a step up form her small run cassette releases, it’s an album which still noticeably retains a lo-fi, home-dubbed aesthetic. Awash with warm, slightly warped synthesizers and ethereal cascades of breathy vocal, ‘Love Sick’ is an album which overtly continues the thread of intimacy established within her earlier releases.
‘Love Sick’ is an album where the surreal and hyper-real collide, the fallout of which forms the album’s bedrock. An atmosphere not unlike that of a benign but rather bizarre dream is established through the mellowly glistening hum of synthesizers that envelop the listener from the start of the album. A sense of the hyper-real sits in diametric opposition to that dreamlike quality, gained through the album’s acute sense of human imperfection. Be it the occasional snatch of lo-fi hiss in the album’s quietest moments or the ambiguous, yet deeply personal, reflections of Chami’s lyrics, ‘Love Sick’ is an album that strives to find an unguarded sense of humanity in amongst the disorientating waves of overdubbed vocals and distinctly inhuman synthesizers.
The vibrant warmth of ‘Love Sick’s humanity and the stuttering rhythms and innately unreal qualities of the synthesizer lend the album a curious but compelling duality. The undulating, insistent synth-squelch of ‘Disgrace’ appears initially alien, an unpredictable drum pattern only furthering a sense of sonic confusion. It’s Chami’s vocals – simultaneously vulnerable and resilient – that are the song’s real clinch, though; they give a sense of focus to an abstract piece of music whilst still being rather oblique themselves. Lyrics are often difficult to decipher through the sonic fog of heady electronics and lo-fi crunch, resulting in an album that never gives it’s deeper meaning up in anything more than brief snippets. It’s tantalising and at times frustratingly cryptic but it’s for the best. ‘Love Sick’s greatest quality is its fascinating duality between the human and robotic; that sense of ambiguity only bolsters the most human elements of the album.
Talking from a purely musical outlook, on face value Chami is not an artist hugely different from countless other bedroom experimentalists. There is, after all, such a genuinely huge amount of experimental bedroom music being created and released onto the world that anyone trading in intimate, DIY synth seances doubtless has to fight tooth-and-nail to be heard. ‘Love Sick’ is an album that manages to be considerably more convincing than the often dull ramblings of many bedroom-acolytes, however. The key to ‘Love Sick’s success is twofold: though what she does with synthesizers is not greatly new, Chami has a strong enough command over her instrument of choice that she’s able to weave an immersive and striking sonic precedent. It is her voice, however,that is the album’s strongest asset – rich and emotive, she layers it in such a fashion that it takes on a quality more akin to a musical instrument than the human voice. The sighing, soaring vocal layers of ‘Home’ and ‘Oceans Passed’ are deeply affecting and definitely Chami’s wildcard.
Aside from a strong sense of musicality, ‘Love Sick’s succeeds also for something less tangible: its emotional resonance. Lyrics aren’t enunciated clearly enough that they can be dissected; instead the feelings Chami conveys are shared through the album’s sumptuous sonics. There’s a persuasive and almost seductive melancholy to many moments on the album which sits in stark contrast to an, at times jarring, minor-key dissonance. The bittersweet atmosphere cast by the slow-motion grandeur of ‘My Sign My Side’ is at significant odds with the unexpectedly spooked strangeness of ‘You’re Trying To Drive’, it’s buzzing bass synth a jolting change from the album’s pervading atmosphere of ethereal, sighing sadness.
It’s not pretty, but it’s certainly effective; though seemingly at odds with one another, the sumptuous melancholic reveries cast by portions of the album and the uncertain, experimental miasmas expelled by others only serve to further the sense of vividly conflicting humanity on the album. It’s a force at the heart of ‘Love Sick’ that makes it a compelling listen, giving it a possibly unconscious thematic resonance that only adds weight to the album.
‘Love Sick’ is an album that signposts Natalie Chami as someone to watch in coming years. She’s not the first DIY artist to transition from tiny-run tapes to more significant, wider reaching releases and she won’t be the last. ‘Love Sick’ is an album that, whilst still in the idiom of earlier works, is enough of a step forward that it would be no surprise to see Chami’s ambition and recognition grow with further outings. Even in the here-and-now, though, TALsounds is a project worth attention and ‘Love Sick’ is an album that rewards the adventurous through it’s mature and subtle impact.