[Review/Listen] – Active Child – “You Are All I See”

Listen to Active Child‘s “You Are All I See” below – Buy the album: Amazon | iTunes | Vagrant Records

Active Child is the solo project of Los Angeles-based Pat Grossi, who had his beginnings as a choir boy and trained classical harpist. His songs blend elements of traditional religious music with electronic rhythms and lonesome lyrics, bringing a modern feel to the transcendent beauty of his training. “You Are All I See” is the debut LP from Active Child, following the well-received “Curtis Lane EP”, and expanding upon the ethereal harp melody and bewitching falsetto introduced in those first few songs.

The new album includes more varied styles than the earlier EP, and moves in the direction of that recently omnipresent minimal, electronic, clearly R&B-influenced aesthetic. Leading up to the album’s release, Grossi toured supporting James Blake and collaborated with How To Dress Well, and his new tracks seem to reflect that new environment.

Active Child’s first work, though steeped in history, felt fresh. “You Are All I See” becomes more familiar as it grows more precisely orchestrated and spacious, losing a bit of that distinctive character: “High Priestess” recalls Bon Iver’s sound a little too closely, as “Way Too Fast” brings to mind a slightly less spare James Blake. At times, Grossi’s experimentation distracts from the overwhelming nature of his songs that originally caught the attention of critics and fans. But the sweeping synths and layered, sublime vocals still interact strikingly with Grossi’s impactful rhythms and delicate use of harp.

Much of the appeal in “You Are All I See” comes from Grossi’s ability to use beats, strained lyrics sung through reaching vocals, and interstitial spaces to build anticipation and a powerful, longing tension. Each downbeat in “See Thru Eyes” seems to roll into Grossi’s mournful repetition, “Tonight, tonight,” pulling the listener forward. In instrumental “Ivy”, Grossi circles with clean, entrancing harp melodies and breaths, working in samples and smoothly building to a well-structured crescendo.

Gloomy “Ancient Eyes” envelops the listener with a phantom-like presence that the following track, “Shield & Sword”, doesn’t quite meet, but album closer “Johnny Belinda” brings us back with a glimpse of the echoing, relatable clarity of Curtis Lane tracks “Wilderness” and “I’m In Your Church At Night”. The album’s standout track is the How to Dress Well collaboration, “Playing House”. The song seems to touch down where the rest float, a satisfying and telling deviation. It reveals what is often missing from what is, overall, a gorgeous album – that moment when the music makes contact, carrying the weight of all its atmospheric grandeur and still pulling at the listener’s own recondite longing.

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