Saw You For The First Time (Album, 2017) by Laurence Guy
The Case for “Transitional” Tracks
Over the past five or so years, algorithmic streaming services helped push people out of their musical comfort zones and introduced them to hybrid territories that recognize the listener's tastes, but mentions “I have something a little different for you...“
That's my experience at least. As someone who had no interest in dance music outside of Chicago Footwork, listening to the four-on-the-floor beat with the usual build-ups and drops was mind-numbing and quaint. However, growing up as an emo-indie-type guy, I do enjoy emotional intelligence in my music. By 2018, the streaming services recognized this odd switching between quiet indie rock and 160 bpm Chicago Footwork and a smattering of Jungle/DnB and recommended me their Lo-Fi House playlist, which is briefly described as “Distorted and rough around the edges.“
In 2018, the Lo-Fi House playlist was little-followed and barely updated, so one artist stayed on it for quite a few months: Laurence Guy, with their track “Saw You for the First Time”. This track is patient and hypnotic, with a looping piano and string section and a minimalist kick. It only takes a low-pass filter to turn repetition into an adventure: The effect hides and reveals its instrumentation over minutes at a time.
A trumpet melody comes in at the near-halfway mark, along with a repeating vocal line on which the title is based. The vocals and melody are the climax—all pieces come together for the ~3 minute mark just for these quiet segments to take hold.
The beauty of entering an album like “Saw You for the First Time” is that you don't come with the expectation of dance music, but of an ambience that is unique to this Outsider House, and an instrumentation that is very singular for Laurence Guy, who cuts their teeth on repeated piano lines and bittersweet vocal lyricisms. “Claudi” is an experimental track that haunts. “Wichita Falls” is held up with a four-on-the-floor beat but doesn't ask for dancing, but contemplation. “Drum Is a Woman” touches on the qualities of a James Blake track, using minimalist electronics and a soulful voice. These tracks don't demand dance, but imagination that someone, in a fit of sadness of redemption, may dance to these tracks anyway.
We have become a playlist-heavy people, giving time to an artist's albums only if we like them enough. When we make our own playlist, we may only add the “hits” of artists, making a banger playlist, but inevitably tiresome. We forget that there are transitional tracks in albums that add beauty to the hits. The semi-competent DJ knows that there is a push-and-pull dynamic to music sequencing: People need to catch their breath for a few minutes after a particularly hard-hitting, poppy song. So we lock in an atmosphere and keep people steady, and when they're ready, we give them something more.
Laurence Guy's album is filled with tracks that might be too “transitional” for people's tastes and playlists, but they are the type of electronic music that I play over and over again in my headphones, as they light up my life without demanding my attention at all times. Algorithmic streaming services have become powerful enough to produce playlists that are filled with transitional tracks that sit side-by-side with bangers, making the highs even higher and the lows capture the feeling we want without taking even more of our energy.