Pitchfork Review 8.0
Leaving behind the beats of his previous work, the Bristol producer takes up chamber instruments, choral arrangements, and digital mayhem on a dizzying album about the nature of the self.
Vessel is not the kind of artist who progresses in straight lines. “I have to move about very quickly, or I become too familiar,” he’s said of his methods. Six years on from his debut album, Sebastian Gainsborough’s music is virtually unrecognizable from its former self. Since emerging from the aftershocks of dubstep, he’s been busily deprogramming himself from the familiar codes of club music, and on Queen of Golden Dogs, he slashes the ropes and soars into the stratosphere, pulling off an extraordinary fusion of chamber music, choral quintets, poetry, surrealism, mysticism, and, not least, rubble-making electronic epics.
After the sinister, dub-informed atmospheres of 2012’s Order of Noise, an album that aligned the Bristol producer with the low-end frequencies of his Young Echo crew, Gainsborough drew a chalk line around his own little corner of not-so-danceable sound-system music. On 2014’s Punish, Honey, he assembled his own orchestra out of shonky homemade instruments, got inspired by bawdy Middle English literature, and came up with an album of shunting, grunting tracks with titles like “Red Sex.” Four years later, he’s on a different plane entirely.
Queen of Golden Dogs, as far as I can scry, is about embracing mystery and ambivalence and junking the whole illusion of “self.” It’s about the uncomfortable realization that your mind is a cluttered cabinet of secret compartments; a contradictory mess of thoughts and feelings that cannot be squashed down into an “I” or “me.” It’s an album of lofty ideas, for sure. It also, thank god, absolutely bangs—harder than anything Gainsborough has touched before, and on a level rarely attempted, let alone reached, by the kind of artist who’s also busy with composing string quartets and adapting Portuguese poems into choral spectaculars.