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If, upon waking, the human mind could capture its dreams in the same vivid color in which it was swimming moments before, our days would be a little hazy. We’d spend hours trying to retrieve the kaleidoscopic images, the foreign but familiar feelings of the dreamtime. We’d be accused of zoning out more. Sleepiness would feel pleasant. It’s unsurprising when art that successfully captures the hypnagogic state renders the viewer or listener meditative, happy—sleepy. Such is the case with Walls and the resonance of their strangely glowing, fuzzy dance-touched loops.
Like a good dream, Walls is the seemingly unlikely amalgamation of different shiny fragments—Alessio Natalizia of the electro-acousti-magic project Banjo or Freakout and producer-slash-Allez-Allez-host Sam Willis met when the former came to the latter for a remix. Their self-titled debut, released by Kompakt Records, sent shockwaves through the media; Mojo named it Best Electronic Album of the Year. ‘Coracle’ takes the most shimmering qualities of the first album and casts spells with them. Of their first contact, Willis recounts, “It was almost a suggestion of things to come. It was so easy. The remix involved me having the stems of his individual tracks…and just processing it and adding my touch to it. In many ways, the beginning of the project was a continuation of our process. If you remove the labels—like ‘remix’—it was a collaborative process from the beginning.”
Much has been said about that archetypal meeting of two minds, the way the respective boys of Banjo Or Freakout and Allez-Allez came together to produce works that rest so perfectly on the halfway point between their own projects. “I think the biggest thing for us—the thing we both share—is high standards and, hopefully, good taste in how we approach what we do,” says Willis. “And that’s filtered twice through both of us.” He laughs when he adds, “Quite a bit is made of the fact that Alessio’s the indie guy and I’m the dance guy. The truth is always a bit more complicated. We both love Kompakt Records, although I’ve been a DJ since I was eighteen and he’s played guitar since he was eight…I think, hopefully, we’re kind of able to just cut through the crap a bit. That’s how we try to live our lives.”
Although the whirling soundscapes of both Walls’ albums — ‘Coracle’ in particular — are dreamy, the reconciliation of two dissonant genres is not such a peculiar feat. Nor is it difficult for Willis and Natalizia to achieve so seamlessly. As Willis reiterates, “It could be because we’re a bit older, but I think we have, hopefully, a more mature take on art and culture…We take the best bits of everything and put it together in a package that makes us happy and that we feel excited about.” Walls have ironically and successfully transcended genre itself; like dreams, there is sense to be made of their differing chimerical parts, a way to connect each visual shard to its appropriate section in a dream dictionary. But it’s futile to try: “Unfortunately, [we] don’t translate to an easy genre…The biggest compliment is that, hopefully, it just becomes Walls music, in terms of how people perceive it.” When Natalizia and Willis came together, it was without any clear-cut intention for a particular sound. Says Willis, “You’ve got to imagine that, from our point of view, Walls didn’t exist when we first started collaborating. It was literally just ‘Sam and Alessio making music.’ Maybe we should have called ourselves that! With ‘Coracle’, we definitely sequenced and worked on it in a way that it made hopefully even more of an immersive, narrative experience that you can listen through. We just enriched the themes that we were exploring on the first record.”
‘Coracle’ is certainly something of a fleshed-out, well-matured version of Walls’ premiere. “I think we got better at producing,” Willis explains. “We have a sonic fingerprint now, I think. It took us a little while to discover what that was in hindsight. The music that we made for the first record was a period in time that we were just starting to collaborate…We wanted to do a maximized version of it. We feel like there’s a brevity and naivety to the first album, which we love. I think it’s pointless trying to recapture that. So the next thing to do, as I mentioned, is to explore those themes and take them to the next level.”
While the gauzy guitars of the debut’s Burnt Sienna swayed and swirled in direct contrast to the glitchy beats of “Gaberdine,” nothing was incongruous. Coracle’s own prismatic, multi-faceted juxtapositions have more breadth. It is an album cleaner but more complex than the first, the intense crest following the self-titled Walls’ initial swell. The first single, Sunporch, is a synth-led march of twinkling lights through a dance floor somewhere in the outer layers of the atmosphere; Raw Umber/Twilight, too, has elements of a song you can groove to, but ultimately sounds like the aural manifestation of euphoria: a voice, (presumably Natalizia’s), wordlessly calls through the drum machines and windchimes before it all fades into the warbled aura of the song’s coda. The root of Willis’ already-mentioned “themes” seems to be taken directly from the space between the pillow and the astral plane.
“We don’t think about themes when we sit down to work on something,” he explains. “It more tends to be a case of following the white rabbit down the hole. It is good to just kind of trust in that instinctive, divining thought, rather than trying to force it to go somewhere. For example, Soft Cover People [below] originally had drums. But when Alessio did his guitar parts for it, it was 136 BPM…I was trying to convince myself that the drums weren’t too fast, but it wasn’t working. I loaded the track up one time, and as chance would have it, the drum samples were on a different hard drive. So when I loaded it up, the computer was like, ‘Oh, you’re missing files.’ I pressed play and it played without any drums and I was like, ‘Oh, now it works.’”
But when probable Walls themes are proposed—the transition between day and night, twilight, dreams—Willis agrees. “I think we try and create exactly that with our songs: moments. Every track on there, we hope, could serve as a different mood or purpose. Whether the last drunk, ‘Drunken Galleon,’ is being played when everyone’s coming back from a club at six in the morning and they’re wasted, or someone is listening to it in the early morning on the train going to work, looking out the window…I think it’s completely subjective and personal. That’s one of the things that, retrospectively, we discovered about our music—that it’s very suggestive and, hopefully, emotionally loaded for people to fill in the blanks themselves. It’s suggestive in terms of the melody, the sounds, the soundscapes. But we’d much rather leave it open to the listener to interpret it how they want to and to apply it where they want to. It is definitely heartening and inspiring when someone tells you they’re laying in the back of their truck, looking up at the stars, listening to your album.”
And what happens to Walls themselves when they hear Coracle? Are they transported to a dreamful meditation, as we are, whether we are drunk or just happily tired? “Listening to it is one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with in my life,” says Willis. “It’s kind of deeply personal and it’s something that I feel so lucky to be a part of—especially this record, because it’s probably the thing I’m most proud of in my life. We finished it and it was like, wow, we really struggled and worked so hard and put everything we could into this and we did it ourselves. You could say it’s like growing vegetables in your own garden and having a great dinner party cooking for your friends and eating it. It’s just the best feeling.”