A subtle, yet definite departure from Placement Issues, Sybarite's second album and 4AD debut, Nonument, offers a lusher, more complex -- and paradoxically, more accessible -- take on Xian Hawkins' electronica/post-rock fusions. While the largely instrumental Placement Issues recalled the mecha-orga hybrids of artists like Tarwater, Tortoise, and Jim O'Rourke, the addition of vocals on several tracks pushes this album closer toward the territory currently inhabited by Dntel and the Notwist: surprisingly warm, emotional songs built on a coolly intellectual electronic foundation. Sybarite's take on this style is more eclectic, incorporating jazz and world elements on tracks like the Spanish guitar-meets-gamelan-meets-IDM of "Homegrown Cultures" and the trumpet- and vibes-driven opening track, "Secropia." Even the album's most electronic-based tracks, such as "Renzo Piano" -- which with its respirator-like percussion and woozy drones, recalls the surgery scrubs-chic of Matmos' A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure -- have a strangely natural, organic feel thanks to Hawkins' gifted arrangements and production. There's an almost aquatic depth to the album's intricate layers of sound, particularly on "Leap Year" and the aptly named "Water," which turns squelches, cracks, and pops into an intricate foil for the song's bittersweet vocals and treated violins. As beautiful and detailed as many of the strictly instrumental tracks are on Nonument, the addition of vocals to Hawkins' work gives it added focus and dimension, not to mention diversity. "The Fourth Day" is a dark and dreamy mix of vaguely Baroque keyboard lines, crunchy beats, and ethereal, chanted vocals, while "Fresh Kills" pairs airy, girlish singing with a voluptuous bassline. Indeed, Nonument's main drawback is that it doesn't include anything from the excellent Scene of the Crime EP; the title song is a perfect fusion of Hawkins' shimmering minimalism and Jennifer Charles' (of the Elysian Fields) hazy voice. Though nothing on this album is quite as immediately stunning as that single, Nonument is still a fascinating and unpredictable album. Fans of quietly challenging, hard-to-place music should enjoy trying to unravel this enigmatic work.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares