Boomkat Product Review:
Danish producer ML Buch studies the fertile space between vintage songcraft and contemporary synthetics on 'Suntub', smudging MIDI guitar riffs and soft rock pads into acoustic instrumentation and soaring earworms. It's like Joni Mitchell's 'Hejira' or Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' rebuilt painstakingly by an AI-powered server farm, the edges hand-frayed into surreal, fractal patterns. A late-year contender for pop album of the year, no doubt.
As artists have spied the creeping influence of AI tools and algorithmic selection, it's caused the most perceptive among them to reconsider their craft. ML Buch takes a bold step into the known unknown on 'Suntub', playing on familiarity to force us to reckon with an uncanny reality. Her songs are rooted in an era where technology had reached a soft peak: the late-'70s/early-'80s stretch that birthed some of the most enduringly "classic" pop tomes. A confident guitarist and expressive vocalist, Buch meshes together harmonic flourishes and riffs you'll swear you've heard before, but does it in a way that sounds totally new.
On opening track and lead single 'Pan over the hill', she uses cheap, bone-dry beatbox hits, waxy synths and sound module strings - to perch us on a queasy junction. Her guitar, processed with heavy chorus to mimic Robin Guthrie's foundational dream-pop riffing, lends a human touch, before lilting, soft-hued vocals seize the spotlight. The faded memory of trip-hop is buried in there somewhere too; Buch is a sensitive listener who acknowledges how often classic pop has been woven into the fabric of different genres, so when we hear a clunky record scratch kick, it's like a wink of acknowledgement.
Buch's vocals themselves are particularly enigmatic. She dubbed them in her Peugeot SUV, using the car as a recording booth and multi-tracking her stems to build extravagant, criss-crossing harmonic loops. It's a technique she employed on her 2020 debut album 'Skinned', and although 'Suntub' is less manifestly electronic than its predecessor, the vocals aren't completely organic, either. While Buch's voice is expressive, it's also heavily treated, shaped with Auto-Tune and various effects. It isn't anything new, sure, but Buch leans into the esoteric potential of the process, using gratifying, opulent chord and key changes to emphasize its dizzying mutability.
At its best, 'Suntub' sounds like a pitch-perfect advancement of some of the ideas Daniel Lopatin splayed out on his last few full-lengths, particularly 'Magic Oneohtrix Point Never'. If Lopatin had wanted to recreate the sensation of listening to soft rock radio in suburban Massachusetts as a youngster, Buch responds with a more earnest, more deliberate simulacrum. The fully-reclined jazziness and forward motion of Joni Mitchell's 'Hejira' is matched with the vertiginous songwriting precision of Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours' and its follow-up 'Tusk', and Buch swirls these inspirations into Escher-like structures, accepting how their traces have been absorbed into the collective consciousness.
On 'Flame shards goo' her vocals evanesce over glistening guitar phrases. "In the open blue, in the golden goo," she reflects, conducting a free-flowing ambient pop symphony that owes as much to Roy Montgomery as it does to Steely Dan. And although there's a brittle beat on 'Somewhere', and artificial acoustic guitar licks that remind us of Malibu's hazy post-trance deconstructions, Buch architects an idiomatic soundscape, alternating slide guitar whooshes with synthesizer wails.
Occasionally, her advanced, nomadic DIY constructions share an intimacy with Erika de Casier, but where de Casier is singing to herself in a room filled with diaries and posters, Buch is peering through smeared glass, bellowing at the shifting clouds. Just peep 'Solid', a celestial cycle of heart-melting vocal harmonies and chugging guitars that sounds like Buch's inward world realized in 4K, sensitive but eye-poppingly vivid, as if her deepest fantasies are being brought to life in real-time. If it's dream pop, it's completely lucid, and if it's soft rock, it's been heated to gooey magma.
File next to Lee Gamble's 'Models' = highest recommendation!