There's a sense of unfinished business surrounding Subtle, the Doseone-fronted collective who dabbled in high concept pop/rap crossovers that always seemed to fall agonizingly short of the wider audience they deserved. Their final record together, ExitingARM, felt like an overt push toward accessibility, mainly due to its adherence to finely honed song structures that were executed with zipped-up brevity. Subtle called it quits in 2009 shortly after ExitingARM failed to reach beyond their immediate fanbase, but one of its founder members, Jordan Dalrymple, has continued to develop various threads from that record with this first album under his Antonionian guise. It's short, with a combined runtime of just over 30 minutes, and works around the same catholic mash-up of pop, rock, funk, R&B, and hip-hop influences that his prior band thrived upon.
The slightly clumsy moniker Dalrymple has chosen to adopt is a nod to the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, the Italian filmmaker who was prone to dabble in abstraction, despondency, and societal and personal dysfunction. If Dalrymple shares one aspect with his almost-namesake, it's in his partiality for the metaphysical, which is strung out across the opaque lyrics that are voiced throughout most of these recordings. This is an album that's all about feeling, of conjuring up a particular mood, where the words are an additional splash of color for the listener to decipher. Those song-based tracks are spliced up by two scene-setting pieces-- the opening "The Desert", which sets a baleful tone via compacted beats and great washes of treated harmonies; and "The Desert Pt. 2", the penultimate track that's about as close as Dalrymple gets to straight-out rock, with its fuzzy guitar and manically chanted vocal incantations.
The wide stylistic gap between those two songs indicates the general direction of Antonionian, which ultimately fragments into different junctures with every new turn it takes. The vocal tone, pushed high into a falsetto range for the most part, works as an anchor of sorts, giving the album its only common motif, although it's difficult to feel grounded in an Antonionian "sound" at any particular moment. A case in point: "My Mind's I" is a jittery pop track that matches an aching lyric from Dalrymple with furious acoustic strumming and a sea of choral voices. This is followed by "Vanquished", a downcast ballad full of melodramatic cries, which in turn gives way to "The Ride", a light mid-range number that marries the soft-focus pop of Air with the quirky impulses of Bruce Haack.
It might sound like a messy conglomeration of styles-- and it certainly takes more than a few listens to becomes fully acquainted with the Antonionian world-- but Dalrymple is a meticulous arranger who just about knows how to slot all the pieces together. Occasionally he'll plunge too close to outright homage; "Into the Night" is one-part Ladytron synth snarl and one-part Prince-circa-Parade airiness, while the following "Fate's Not Particular" is a disappointingly played-straight diversion into shrill indie rock. That taste for diversity is partly what made Subtle tick, but what's lacking here is the overriding edge that made that project work. In short, Doesone could conjure up whole worlds of possibility through a series of carefully obfuscated lyrics, but Dalrymple can't quite pull off the same trick despite adhering to similar methodology. There's a sense that he's meandering with no particular destination in mind here, which is fine if that's his only intent, but his prior work suggested he's capable of so much more.