The front cover of Sacha Mullin’s second solo record Duplex might startle you the first time you see it. At first, Mullin’s unflinching eye contact and plaintive expression may make you slightly uncomfortable, but as it sits in front of you for a while, it grows difficult to avoid looking it over every few seconds. Though it seems like a pretty straightforward option for album art, I thought the image represented Duplex well—Mullin’s confident presentation of his songs can be at first jarring, but once you’re indoctrinated into the record, your attention is constantly pulled back to the music.
Duplex quite cleverly refers to its structure in its title; the front half of the album has an electronic bent, while side B has a bit more of a human touch. Though they’re technically separated, the two styles are very much like neighbors, each contributing to making the record their ‘home.’ That home seems to have an eclectic decor, at turns dark, classical, dissonant, stark, rich, poppy, tense and explosive.
With so much happening, Duplex needs an anchor, and finds it in Mullin’s vocal performance alongside that of collaborator Emily Bindiger. Their timbres are powerful in an almost theatrical way, and mesh well together again and again across several tracks. There are occasions, however, where the punch of the vocal parts outstrip the substantial instrumentation. It seems backwards to say Mullin is upstaging his own music, but when the dramatic flair really lands, as in piano-and-violin-led “Dream Ain’t Dead,” it makes some of the emotionally dissonant moments more awkward. Fortunately, this particular quirk smooths out as Mullin moves into the more organic material.
I’m a big fan of expansive electronic production, and that’s one of Duplex’s strongest elements. “Eureka,” or “ユーレカ,” as it’s stylized, has a gigantic stack of synth parts that almost seems to breathe in time with the trip-hop-inflected beat, and Mullin’s falsetto vocal in Japanese makes me feel like I’ve reached the end credits of a cerebral sci-fi anime. I believe it’s the heaviest-hitting track on side A, and it most capably demonstrates both Mullin’s musical talents and aesthetic diversity. Not many people can pull something like this off.
“White Hot Room” is another high point on the record for me, functioning almost like a paranoid version of an Adele song. Though it bears an aural resemblance to a torch song, Mullin never stops shifting around his vocal range, and ultimately ends the track without letting it resolve. It’s maybe the most sparsely arranged song on Duplex, but despite that (and maybe even because of it) it’s one of the most emotionally evocative moments on the record.
Mullin has said he completed Duplex over the course of nearly five years, which brings both its strengths and its flaws into focus—he has been sitting with these ideas for so long that nearly every aspect of the record is maximally developed. Though the record may sometimes sag under its own weight, the audacity of its scope and the impressiveness of the musical delivery make Duplex worth several listens. Very few musicians can accomplish what Mullin has as an independent production, and on Duplex he makes his first few steps toward virtuosity.
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