When you are an introvert who loves music, certain kinds of sounds no matter how minimal, can evoke scenes, feelings, messages that others couldn’t quite get to. Dark Ambient turns from just two chords into a world all its own, if you mix it and other ingredients right. Throw in some choir-esque vocals and new ideas pop up with ease. This very thing happened with MELVL’s Live at the Crystal Palace.
The record opens with a swirl of crashing static before faint wafts of choir vocals turn from wordless to wafting “hallelujahs” on the traditional “Ite, missa est”. Eventually sounds of coughs and drumsticks might distract, but if you manage to already become sucked into the anxiety of the record, background noise sound like broken branches, onlooking citizens, and faraway sounds of a town you probably should not crossed into. It’s pastoral and calming in a way that it doesn’t try to comfort and instead soundtracks your misery, in hopes that you will find your own comfort.
If “Love You, Lucien” is any indication, the walk down the soundly, foggy road that doubles as a search for a brighter resolve eventually turns into submission to the void. The thick tense bass drowns you but not enough that an occasional voice wouldn’t try to peak its way in. Essentially, Live at the Crystal Palace offers in front of you your own tension, your own discomfort, your own desire to just drown in sound till you can hardly breathe. But in case you have had enough, they offer you several feet of fabricated rope. The adventure you take listening to this record is yours from there.
“Live at the Crystal Palace” by MELVL is the newest release from Grimalkin Records, a non-genre based “collective run by queer women, nb, & qpoc folx”, giving home and voice to those who often fight daily to be recognized and respected for who they are, values and rights that many of us who are white and male too often take for granted. MELVL initially taps into a dark ambient sound of drones, industrial-like wind turbines and harsh dissonance held together with a voice both soft and demanding, similar to Diamanda Galás or Dead Can Dance, and it’s this voice that carries us throughout.
You particularly notice the live aspect of this recording. Voices shuffle in the background. Glasses clink. There are polite claps between the two sets. Some of my favorite memories in my early 20’s were curating, participating in, and watching more experimental almost noise like shows in grungy basements with 20-30 people standing silently, watching the sounds explore and bounce all round you, bobbing down and watching your feet as you enter a special place within yourself.
These recordings take me back to those times that I remember fondly. There’s something special about this happening in a particular place and a particular time. When we reach the final track, “Love You, Lucien”, there is a heartbreaking interplay of angelic vocals and soft ambience that speaks to the silence of our most personal moments. We are transfixed and transported to a place of beauty and wonder. We are lifted to a place where we belong, thanks to MELVL. All proceeds from digital sales will go to the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia.