Boomkat Product Review:
Lee Gamble considers the illusory impact of vocals on 'Models', using emerging technologies to fashion uncanny pop music that links Liz Fraser's mysterious lingual tics with rave's disembodied diva loops and the hoarse rasp of trip-hop. For our money it's his most crushing full-length to date, an earworm-addled, emotional pop record that's as strange, poignant and haunted as his breakout 'Diversions 1994-1996'.
Over the last few years, Gamble has become fascinated with the concept of the earworm - the sounds we absorb unknowingly and can't wrestle away from even when we want to. Earworms can be good and bad: they can be the hook from Inner City's 'Good Life', or they can be a carcinogenic, committee-developed saccharine injection. On 'Models', Gamble microscopically unpacks the vocal music that's stayed with him over the years - like Cocteau Twins, Tricky and more recently Future and Lil Uzi Vert - and attempts to extract its essence. He's not making pop music exactly, but using its techniques to inspire a suite of radio-friendly miniatures that reflect pop's charm and counter its plasticity.
When Gamble assembled 'Diversions' back in the early 2010s, he distilled jungle's ambient breakdowns into hazy memories. Here, he does a similar thing with a more traditionally recognisable/mainstream format, using the tools of sonic oppression to suggest an alternative - music that's robotic but sensual, futuristic but connected to a vast tree of vocal music and bardic poetry that underpins our entire culture of entertainment. Gamble's quick to say that 'Models' isn't an AI album, but he used machine learning techniques to help him develop the voices that we hear on the record.
A wandering, cybernetic cry introduces us to 'Purple, Orange', singing in a wordless, fantasy dialect while Gamble stretches its reverberations into euphoria. It only lasts a moment before 'Juice' arrives like a half-cut recollection of '90s trance; delirious arpeggiated synths cough over bass drops, but it's the voice that provides the focus. There are plenty of artists tapping this wellspring right now, from Malibu to Courtesy, but Gamble avoids being drowned by idealisation, preferring to imagine his own fertile emotional landscape. And on lead single 'She's Not' he takes another sharp turn, layering peculiar, shoegaze-adjacent guitars that coax us into the saturated, stadium-ready hook.
These airy phrases levitate across 'Blurring', a dusted chugger that's an update of Tricky's hallowed 'Maxinquaye'-era swagger. Even the echo that fragments the track's robotic pulse sounds era-specific, but the form is defective; it's trip-hop, in some way, but broken into tiny shards and glued back together like kintsugi. Despite being his most rigorously mechanical album, 'Models' is also Gamble's most fluid and emotional, playing on heartstrings and recollections as if moulded out of our own private, personal putty. Decidedly British, it's a look back at history that imagines an alternate future that's aware of the steady creep of technology, but never at its mercy. It might be the most hopeful record we've heard this year, and certainly one of the best.