The last we heard from Active Child (aka producer Pat Grossi), he was releasing his ‘Rapor’ EP back in 2013 with features from Mikky Ekko and Ellie Goulding. Their inclusion hinted at a greater pop sensibility beyond 2011 debut ‘You Are All I See’ whilst maintaining the trademark lush electronic production, falsetto vocals and harp glissandi.
That doesn’t seem to have carried on to second album ‘Mercy’. Sure, those trademark features remain, but for the most part this feels too lightweight. Beyond a handful of tracks, the album’s ten tracks slip by without leaving a lasting impression. Collectively, there’s an overall mood of delicacy, nocturnal longings and slinky, sexy affairs, but too often the music comfortably sits in the background. Like Grossi’s fragile vocal, the music is just too restrained – at times alluringly pained and vulnerable, at others almost too scared to make an impact.
1999 is a relaxed opener, with its gentle piano and bass guitar patter, but besides some harp arpeggios the track barely develops over its four minute length. The same can be said of some later tracks: the title track focuses on a warm groove but lacks impetus; the dramatic contrasts of Lazarus fail to provide a hook; and closer Too Late too easily allows the album to drift off into the ether.
Compared with Grossi’s past material, there’s a greater influence of R&B on ‘Mercy’ – the strongest and most memorable tracks are those that take this to heart. The best of these is Never Far Away, with its slinky groove and funk guitars combining with slick production for one hell of a sexy track. The softly pulsing These Arms takes a similar tact, though it’s Stranger that takes us closer to dance territory without quite providing a satisfying, punchy breakdown – typical of Grossi’s sense of restraint. By contrast, the acoustic Darling is too sweet to stand up to the album’s general sense of dark melancholy, and the interlude Midnight Swim is an interesting, if unnecessary, experimentation. More tracks like Temptation, all yearning melodies and softly textured beats, would be welcome.
As it stands, ‘Mercy’ faces similar criticism to its forbear – a slightly frustrating listen that doesn’t quite live up to the potential of its most successful moments.
* These Arms
* Never Far Away
Listen: ‘Mercy’ is available now.