Lilacs & Champagne

Midnight Features, Vol. 2: Made Flesh

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When Portland, Oregon musicians Emil Amos and Alex Hall splintered off from their long-running instrumental rock act Grails with the formation of Lilacs & Champagne in the early 2010s, the earliest sounds from the band were giddy attempts to re-create the sound of sample-based hip-hop masters like Madlib, J Dilla, and DJ Shadow. Stitching together instrumentals from patches of thrift store records, drum samples, and various found sounds, the duo made an enthusiastic if not entirely memorable debut in 2012, and expanded on it somewhat the next year with the X-rated soundtrack vibes of second album Danish & Blue. Third album Midnight Features, Vol. 2: Made Flesh sees Lilacs & Champagne in a state of even further refinement, finding their own voice at a pace many hobbyist beatmakers never even come close to. The album begins with "Roses & Kisses," a head-bobbing funk groove based around cut-up samples from the silken vocals of Blue-era Joni Mitchell. The song has an attention to spatial dynamics that was missing on the busier moments of earlier Lilacs & Champagne material, giving the various elements of the tune enough room to interact with each other nicely. Some of the porn movie soundtrack energy of Danish & Blue comes back on tracks like "Longjohn's Lust," complete with sultry wah-wah guitar. As the album goes on, the band approaches different styles with a similar skeletal production, from the spooky murder mystery loops of "Case Closed!" to the cloudy, spacious beat of "Euro Blow." An album highlight comes with the jarring keyboard riffery and ghostly ambient background noises of "Midnight Creeper, Pt. 2." None of the elements of the song should make sense together, but somehow sound perfect in their tooth-grinding anxiousness. Midnight Features, Vol. 2 represents another step forward for the prolific sound sculptors, and one that moves their collage skills into a more cohesive and singular state.

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