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No one has ever been 100% clear on what exactly it was that oOoOO, aka Chris Dexter, pioneered when he appeared on the scene a few years ago – some venture “witch house”, others pencil his music in at the greyer end of the “chillwave” spectrum, a quiet few venture “grave wave” – but it’s beyond doubt that he was part of the first wave of something. The thing about Dexter, though, is that he sounds very little like the contemporaries he’s frequently compared to. He’s poppier than exploratory sound engineer and noise artist The Haxan Cloak and dreamlike producer Balam Acab, and yet he adds a dimension of surreality to all the pop vocalists he works with (such as ML, who adds her voice to this album, and Butterclock, who featured on his ‘Our Love Is Hurting Us’ EP and, by herself, makes lovelorn nostalgic synth tunes).
Dexter’s first full-length LP, ‘Without Your Love’, released on his own imprint Nihjgt Feelings, indicates that his sound is one that’s built to outlast the first wave of a movement – the album is definitely a mournful experience, but it’s one with verses, choruses, and even moments that recall what it’s like to dance. Gloomy soundscape Sirens opens the album, and in doing so it dupes the listener into thinking that they’re in for an hour of carefully engineered sonic moping. Somewhere between Stay Here and Without Your Love – both sound like hook-filled pop songs that have had concrete blocks tied to their feet and and been thrown to swim with the fishes – it becomes apparent that there’s much more than that to this sensitive collection of love songs.
The memory of dance hovers over this music like a phantom limb; the clipped vocal sample on the fun interlude 3:51am for example, coupled with its languid yet crisp beats, make it feel like it’s a distorted snapshot of the dancefloor viewed through an impossibly long lens that makes a second into a blissfully intimate two and a half minutes. Similarly, The South functions around a series of exhilarating drops, and On It and Mouchette shuffle forward on grooves borrowed from murky R&B at one point, even murkier industrial techno the next. Dexter plays with countless references and models that suggest an intimacy with song structure and a desire to turn it inside out. His songs speak the language of pop, taking the classic formula of tragedy dressed up in a fun veneer and distorting it in all kinds of ways, with sounds that veer between blissful and terrifying and honest, emotional lyrics rendering the whole thing much more cohesive and meaningful than the appropriations that defined 2010/2011.
There’s a lot of room to move around in this distorted pop model, but the crucial flaw of ‘Without Your Love’ is that it doesn’t ever quite explore that fully. Before this album ever gets off its feet, it gets sunk into the submerged, woefully pitched-down five minute closing track that is Across A Sea. Sprinkled with piano and distant wave-like crashes, the track winds the album to a sorrowful finale. ‘Without Your Love’ never really moves from the spot it’s rooted to; existing in a post-witch house mindset, oOoOO’s debut album epitomises the feeling of the morning after the night before. It’s made in the dawn as a profound darkness lifts, finally looking outwards after a night spent soul-searching, but never quite finding the energy to move too far.