Although 2011 has seen its share of strong releases, few have gotten me as excited upon first listen as Active Child's debut full length "You Are All I See". I had received a free mp3 of the track "Hanging On" and could not get over its gorgeousness, so obviously seeking out the complete album was mandatory. And was it ever worth it.
New Jersey's Pat Grossi has concocted a one of a kind here, and there is little doubt it's headed for plenty of year-end Best Of lists, including mine. I haven't been this blown away by a 2011 album since the new Bon Iver. How to describe Active Child's music? Well you have to start with that voice. It comes as no surprise after listening to the angelic, soaring falsetto he employs throughout this record that Grossi is a former choir member, singing with the Philadelphia Boys Choir. His vocals call to mind the likes of Jimmy Somerville or Antony Hegarty, yet retain a completely unique voice all their own.
Musically, it's as if Grossi took a blender, tossed in a heaping portion of 80's synth pop, added a pinch of dubstep, sprinkled in various electronic influences and topped it off with ambient and classical ingredients to produce this dizzying collection. One minute it is screwing with your head, the next blowing your mind with its beauty. I've truly heard nothing else like it this year.
"Hanging On" is the song that captured my interest, and it stands as my favorite track here. Using Grossi's sighing vocals, harp, a slow beat and soundscapes of keyboards, he laments "I just can't keep hanging on to you and me" in one of the loveliest break-up songs you're bound to hear. Yes, the track is that stunning. Album closer "Johnny Belinda" matches the beauty of "Hanging On", an icy cool orchestral masterpiece topped off with Grossi's magical vocal work.
Other highlights include the trippy "Way Too Fast", a mindfuck if ever there was one on here, as Grossi distorts and slows his voice down at times over forebodingly dark music that mixes with his altered vocals and a strange scratch effect that sounds like someone lighting a match. "High Priestess" has an ethereal melody with tribal drums beating over the top while "Shield & Sword" sounds like some strange love child of Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode and Bronski Beat. "Playing House" featuring How To Dress Well (aka Tom Krell) is electronic R&B, as Krell performs a soulful duet with Grossi.
"You Are All I See" truly needs to be listened to as a whole as singling out individual tracks only tells part of the story. It is one of those 'headphone albums', a work that is best experienced with the lights out, a good pair of headphones on, and your eyes closed to get lost in its brilliance and beauty. Essential listening.