Active Child is the project of one Pat Grossi, whose press material describes him as "choirboy-turned-indie-pop musician". You Are All I See is his debut full-length record.
Before we go into too much detail here, i feel that i should provide a warning about the voice. On a scale of Barry White to castrati, Grossi's vocal technique falls in the Jimmy Sommerville range. That's pretty high-pitched, and i know that a lot of people are turned off by vocals that high up the register, but there are also those who enjoyed The Communards back in the day. Consider yourself fore-warned, and act accordingly for the rest of this review.
Now, in addition to his high-pitched singing, Mr. Grossi is an electronic musician. The music that he sings over is a rumbling 1980s influenced synthpop, often reminiscent of what M83 were doing on Saturdays = Youth. The vocal style makes this a little artier than M83, who are clearly a John Hughes soundtrack type of band. Active Child are more like that sort of artsy synthpop you would have heard on a college radio station back in the 1980s. This project is descended from Kraftwerk more than O.M.D..
The record starts with You Are All I See in which a tinkling noise like a harp chimes against a Vangelis-like synth drone, some piano, and his voice. This plays like a Sigur Ros tune without the gobbledygook lyrics.
On Hanging On Grossi brings in a deep bass rumble and a chugging hip-hop beat. I like how the rhythm sample pairs with his voice. He goes full hip-hop on Playing House, bringing in the rapper HDTW (kind of a mouthful of a name there) to add a verse. The percussion is similar in nature to the previous tune, and Grossi sings soul music while HDTW raps in that arrhythmic way that people seem to like these days. This is my least favorite track on this record, but then again, as a middle aged white guy who grew up in Amish country in central Ohio, i am not the target audience for this.
See Thru Eyes finds Grossi at his most M83-like. This song features a heavily echoed drum and a warbling bass, and then an up swell of synths and thudding drums. This song could have been played during a dramatic moment in a John Hughes film.
Grossi mixes it up again for High Priestess which is one of my favorite tracks here. And, big surprise, here Grossi gets his Fever Ray on, twisting his voice over a scattered thudding percussion and keyboard drone. It is a dark, soaring song that is oddly beautiful.
Ivy is a short M83-like instrumental of ponderous drums and layers of synths. Is Grossi playing guitar here as well? If not, that is a fine guitar sample. Way Too Fast goes the other direction, with the instrumentation very sparse, letting the voice stand out.
Ancient Eye features Grossi singing over another Vangelis-like drone with a fascinating clanging percussion. He feeds the voice through some kind of distortion in the middle of the song, making him sound like a vocal sample from an old Kraftwerk tune, while he layers in that great harp sample again. This is a really fascinating song.
The percussion goes industrial on Shield & Sword, a chugging clanking rhythm like something from a Skinny Puppy song. His voice warbles over this in a really beautiful way, accompanied by synth stings and warbling bass riff.
And finally we have Johnny Belinda which starts with him almost singing opera over synth strings. The song grows with low drone and warbling synths, again with a Fever Ray feel to it.
I have to admit that i am impressed. Grossi is doing a lot of interesting things here, mixing up his synthpop history and covering it all with his high-pitched, expressive vocals. I haven't really ever heard anything quite like this record, and that is really saying something. I am very curious to see where he goes from here.