His debut full-length was only released in 2012, but STUMBLEINE still can’t be considered new. Even before the British producer’s sun-bleached soundscapes gained him a small following in the European electro circuit, he’d been a long-standing member of Bristol-based dubstep trio, SWARMS. Then, of course, there’s the fact that his output has been attached to every trending electro-based genre in the book: chillwave, shoegaze, dream-pop, glo-fi, you name it. Mix in a heavy helping of vocal sampling and slap a soft-focus vintage wash on it, and you have STUMBLEINE well and truly pigeonholed. This is beautiful, clean, summertime music – but the British producer is obviously moving on well-trodden terrain.
In his latest EP, Chasing Honeybees, the glo-fi producer collaborates with singer-songwriter VIOLET SKIES to create a modern pop record which vacillates somewhere between the bedroom and the dance floor. VIOLET SKIES’ soulful vocals are entirely on point for the polished, high-production pop sound that STUMBLEINE cultivates. But there seems to be a tension here. Pop songs are meant to tell stories, even if they are just about an unexpected make-out sessions (as in the blandly-titled, And Then He Kissed Me). STUMBLEINE, on the other hand, doesn’t do narratives; he creates vast, atmospheric, walls of sounds, where vocal samples bleed into soundscapes in sub-audible refrains. This shoegaze aesthetic calls for the stream-of-conscience sequences championed by Elizabeth Frazer in the COCTEAU TWINS. As good as she is, VIOLET SKIES is not that kind of vocalist.
With her help, STUMBLEINE has produced a mini pop record, and any note of discord between the two artists has been blended and mellowed at the expense of anything particularly interesting. In the opening track of EP, Clip My Wings, a powerful and promising synth-pop intro diminishes into the background to make way for every club anthem cliché in the book (“Fight fire with love!” is one example). Then there’s the kid’s TV cheese of And Then He Kissed Me, complete with chiming bells, an uninspiring melody and couplets that would make any poetry mogul cringe.
VIOLET SKIES’ vocals exude a lush, velvety tone which gels well with electronic sounds, and she sounds great on the ballad-esque Caroline and the soulful Just Tell Me. That said, it feels like a golden opportunity was lost here. In the heavy focus on VIOLET SKIES’ song-writing, Chasing Honeybees forgets to showcase STUMBLEINE’s brand of beautiful, slow-burning dream pop to the full, making this collaboration a far less powerful event than it could have been.
Doing the rounds of love and heartbreak somewhere between a song and a dance, STUMBLEINE’s new EP relies too much on formulaic pop conventions, with disappointing results.
NBHAP Rating: 2.5/5