Active Child is preaching from the choir

Urban hymns
By LUKE O'NEIL  |  May 8, 2012

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SWEEPING SOUNDS Pat Grossi's Active Child project takes elements of choir music and runs them
through electronic music filters. 

Since the invention of music, dudes have been harnessing their natural singing talents for one specific purpose: to pick up babes. That sort of thing was frowned upon throughout much of history, however, so they had to disguise their motives by singing for one very special chick in the sky; a chick named God. Now, of course, we can just beam digital signals into space to shorten the lag time, but there was a time when we gathered together in collective voice to sing loudly and clearly enough that it might reverberate throughout the heavens.

That's the glorious tradition that Pat Grossi, a/k/a Active Child, draws upon in his music, a mix of choral vocal arrangements and glitchy beat-making (with vaguely '80s stylistic touches) that somehow lands squarely in the sweet spot of the indie/laptop-fi/James Blake-wave romanticism that's gently lulling the kids into a state of bliss these days.

Grossi isn't a religious person by any stretch, he says, but the style of music he sang in his school choir in New Jersey, then later in a larger city choir in Philadelphia, spoke to him instantly. "That's where music really started for me," he says. That and rock and roll.

"I was like any other kid; I loved anything that was on the radio, anything that my dad was into — he introduced me to the old bands he loved: the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin. I wasn't going home and listening to choir music, but at the same time I was definitely excited about the music I was being introduced to in choir. It was cool and interesting."

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It still is, at least in Grossi's hands. Songs like "I'm in Your Church at Night" from the 2010 Curtis Lane EP, or his most recent full-length, You Are All I See [Vagrant], crest and burst with the grandeur of his blessed falsetto. There are moments of stunning clarity and beauty throughout, as his ethereal exhalations levitate over the fray of lilting harp melodies and minimal beats. It's the intersection of these incongruous styles that makes it stand out. "I managed to work it into a combination of sounds where it can work and still be interesting and cool. I think if it was straight-up choir music I wouldn't be doing this interview. But I've grafted elements of electronic music, synths, heavy drum machines, into something that complements the vocals."

It's a confluence of instrumentation that will be familiar to fans of the recent M83-like retro-drum machine and epic, sweeping gestures of sound (Active Child supported them on their last date at the House of Blues), but in this context it also adds up to a strangely R&B-like result. There are sultry come-ons and sexy funk grooves; think the Weeknd-style crooning with a lot more harp pushed up in the mix.

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