Replicas: Phil Western & Tim Hill, “Dark Features”

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written by Bruce
September 13, 2017 | Category: Album Reviews, Replicas

Replicas is the handle we use to write about reissues and archival releases, offering some thoughts on the original material, and whatever additional goodies or format shifts may have been appended. This week, a psych-techno classic from one of Vancouver’s smokiest exports…

Phil Western & Tim Hill - Dark Features

Phil Western & Tim Hill
Dark Features
ArtOfFact

What is it?
At the time known for his work in Download and Plateau, Vancouver’s own Phil Western took a scenic detour from the straight-up, no-chaser techno of his debut LP, The Escapist, with his 2001 sophomore record. Recorded in conjunction with long-time collaborator and video artist Tim Hill, Dark Features borrowed from both the noisier experimentation of Download and the downtempo, stoner techno of Plateau, but cross-pollinated those sounds with a helping of psych-rock and shoegaze. Tunes like “He Never Showed Up” and “DMT” are lush, florid pieces which sample from a little bit of everything in the kitchen, but also hold together incredibly well as compositions. It was a big leap forward for Western which allowed for his contributions to his work with cEvin Key to be understood more clearly, and elements of its broad, warm, and psyched-out sound have found their way into much of his discography ever since.

What’s on it?
Dark Features has been treated to a gatefold, double-vinyl release. In addition to the original track list, this ArtOfFact reissue comes with five bonus tracks on the D-side. They’re interesting to listen to in contrast with what made the original cut. Some, like “I’m Already Dead” and “The Olden Days” feel like slightly wallflower-esque versions of their more varied LP counterparts; polished and well considered, but not yet ready to take the plunge with fuzzed out guitars and vocal harmonies. The historical essay Western’s written for the liner is especially informative, detailing the record’s genesis in locations both physical – West Vancouver and Gibsons (of Beachcombers fame for all you Canadians) – and astral; Western discusses the sound of the record’s origin in his first experiences with DMT. The song of the same name which grew out of that trip’s always felt like the linchpin of the record, and it was interesting to have that corroborated.

Who should buy it?
At least for myself, Dark Features became the epitome of a local, independent classic. I bought the CD from a shop Phil had dropped copies off at earlier in the day, and its easy-going nature made it the soundtrack to plenty of walks through the city and late night reading. This reissue should be of obvious interest to long-time fans of Download, Plateau, or the Subconscious sound in general, but its delimited vision of techno should have broader appeal. The softer, psychedelic side of it will resonate with Legendary Pink Dots fans, and its rock grooves find a chemistry with its techno elements which I remember umpteen bands aiming for (and generally failing at) in the late 90s and early 00s. An overlooked gem finally getting some shine, Dark Features has shades to suit all the seasons it’s weathered.

Buy it.

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