Where does boredom end and skill begin? The longstanding issue of ambient music integrated into pop and rock structures is this melding and its inability to properly convince the listener that the performer isn’t just on codeine or stricken with some major form of ennui. Often the drone and ambient genres themselves thrive on extended tones, drawing equally from Four Organs and Neroli, but when vocals enter the fray the decline into bored lulls becomes apparent. While acts like Broadcast and Beach House can turn distant echoes and slow moving songs into emotional experiences, more often than not the end result of pairing ‘verbed out female vocals with loping waves of keyboards and treated instruments is underwhelming at best. Portland duo The Slaves style themselves as drone/doom pop, made in the “guy-girl” vein, relying more on the latter vocally and the former musically. Debuting with their six track Grey Angel, their start is inauspicious and reminiscent of numerous outings already tread over. Their insistence on lengthy songs and neo-hipster vibes doesn’t help their case much either, and the album itself is a soporific affair.

’You Could Save Me’ starts promisingly enough, a gentle but immersive synth coupled with echo feedback swelling and stating its basic structure as so many prior albums have. But then those vocals enter. Operatic and grandiose, they sound bored with the motions being run through, more often than not presenting themselves as speed trials for a collaboration with Stars Of The Lid or Black Swan. And then it continues on the same path for nigh on four minutes, each second of space filled with heavy delay and heavier plate reverberation. It’s the sound of Logic Pro, only spared by slightly more interesting wails from what could be another (masculine) voice. But the tones give way to yelps and half-hearted releases that sound like a bad reference to ‘Ribs Out.’ This formula will keep true for most of the album, only varying the second vocal track between male and female, yelps and samples, each track so caught up in its own navel-gazing that the source of entertainment in the genre gets lost in an air of narcissism. While their style thrives on sounding unaffected and far away, the presentation lacks so much – primarily because it sounds like so much already out. There are traces of (equally poor) Los Angeles hipster drone-pop projects too myriad to name, hints of (Dth)’s guitar style, and the keyboard sounds of Rob Walmart and Golden Retriever crossed with Vacation Dad. Basically it’s an affair for those obsessed with irony and moustaches.

One can’t help but feel bad at such a statement (I know I do), because there are some genuinely good moments. It’s just that with an average track length of seven minutes, a lot of sifting must be done to pan for the musical gold with more pyrite than Au. ‘Visions’ has a great use of percussion and twinkling synthesizers (Juno?), but their pitch treated vocals are out of place, poorly programmed, and obtrusive. Melodically, most if not all songs on Grey Angel choose one loop of about eight bars and repeat it endlessly, adding in keyboard lines gradually not to complement the vocals, but the existing background loops. It’s a move that could work if the melodies were stronger and had a sense of movement, especially pop structure given how the band defines itself. Instead it’s witch house without the blown out sound (or vibe).

Floundering in their own stream, The Slaves try to reconcile their disparate tastes – their sound drawing equally from Eno and Black Devil, arguably into Satie and even Russolo – but fail to incite the listener into a state of attentiveness required for the sound. Given the pure boredom without even nascent emotion bubbling underneath that each vocal is steeped in, the listener is lulled to a state of just not caring. When emotion should be felt and massiveness should collapse the roof, instead a whimper is let forth as Slaves force their feet to drag. I would call it backpedaling, but no progress was made over which to return. Simply put, this disappointment of an album will leave the listener down in the mouth and down on the state of music if this is what gets signed.

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