It’s taken Louis Carnell some time to find his true artistic voice as Visionist. His first few releases, although visionary in their own right, were innocent Grime works, finding their feet in the dissolution of Dubstep in London. Louis’ work as Visionist was the product of a newborn scene growing out of bass culture in the UK and like every newborn it had to learn to fend for itself. Naturally a few stumbling blocks had to be conquered, and eventually tags like Future Bass and Future garage were dissolved for music that wasn’t so categorically defined, music that took on various influences from across the world of bass music to arrive at a sound where the broad brush of a genre was unable to paint a singular picture. It was through this period that Louis too emerged as an artist and his process of discovery is one synonymous with the decimation of bass music in London, to form isolated islands of artists exploring the residues of the music in very different ways. Visionist looked to America through Juke and electronic shoe gaze, releasing music on Lit City Trax and collaborating with artists like Fatima Al Qadiri, J Cush and Zebra Katz. He combined these influences with his early musical education in grime to arrive at music that was shaped by enigmatic vocal layers, taking on hauntingly visceral shapes amongst bursts of percussion. It’s this sound that has found it’s most complete realisation on Carnell’s debut LP as Visionist, Safe.
The album follows the course of an anxiety attack, and taking control of the situation. “It’s a sound representation of an anxiety attack, from having that one thought and that thought turning into multiple thoughts; and finding yourself having an attack; and then coming out of that and managing to relax again”; says Louis of Safe. The music follows the narrative in discordant melodic apparitions that come across in ambiguous alien vocalisations, while confronting aggressive percussive anomalies. The percussive elements very rarely mark out a beat progression, opting rather for a role in creating opaque harmonic layers. It’s here amongst the dense layers created from a stark minimalist sonic palette that Carnell’s touch has matured quite a bit from his first explorations. Carnell’s abstract signature vocal melodies have become richer on this album and tracks like Too careful to care and Sin-cere sound fuller than they would’ve in the past, those multiple delays and reverbs adding layers of depth that just aren’t there in their raw form. You almost get a chance to truly slip into Carnell’s frame of mind, just before the harsh metallic nature of the high-pitched vocals and obstructive grime percussive parts cut you off from venturing anywhere near the personality behind the music. It snaps you out of any shared experience you think you might be having and suggests that Carnell’s anxiety is a very personal experience.
Although a title like Sin-cere seems anything but in this regard, the poignant melodies on their evocative bed of multiple harmonies deliver substantial emotive messages to the listener, which become clear in the context of the conceptual message. We know there’s intent in the music, but it takes the authors clarification to arrive at the disambiguation of the abstracted art form with Safe. As a result the listener never really experiences the sensation of being Safe, but rather like most music born out of the Grime aesthetic there’s something uncomfortable, manipulating and even aggressive about the music, something beautifully aggressive. The heavy-handed percussive elements on Victim, 1-Guarda and Safe play a particular role in bringing this facet to Safe. Like Carnell’s fuller arrangements, these percussive elements once again show a Visionist on top of his game, an evolutionary process that’s reached its first creative peak. It’s Carnell at his most mature and even though I find a slight inconsistency between the musical narrative and the conceptual one – one in which the musical one doesn’t quite resolve for me – I can’t deny that Carnell has successfully conquered the long player on his debut. The sonic diorama he’s created is effective and there’s something guttural in the music. It’s a raw sentimentality that’s been refined by a professional and an inherent musical ability that Carnell has always possessed. It’s almost as if Safe is what he’s slowly been aspiring to get out, and took a few good releases to get to this moment of excellence.
Carnell might have said that part of the idea behind Safe was to avoid playing it safe, but as irony would have it, the artist’s introverted nature would mean he is most secure when disappearing into himself, and that is exactly why Safe is such a masterpiece. Safe is the most confident version of Carnell as he arrives at everything the Visionist set out to be.