Huge apologies to the band and to this blog for the amount of time I have had this promo CD, five weeks after release date.
There is a reason. On first listen I really didn’t like this record and I’m an honest person, so I contacted my editor and said I don’t think I’m the right choice to review this. I’d listened to it and was having some very strong reactions to it.
It touched a few buttons in me from the first two or three tracks. I felt it sounded dense and the first two or three tracks seemed to owe a lot to a kind of shoegazy aesthetic that felt throwaway and I couldn’t isolate the vocals clearly enough to enjoy the conceptual opening track Tamara de Lempicka (I googled her, you’ll instantly know her Art Deco work). It was a high concept subject, but I was frustrated I couldn’t dive in.
Shoegaze. This isn’t really a shoegaze endeavour and I was rather surprised the PR flags this genre but the first couple of tracks could fall in that camp and the record does have some hazy drifts as it progresses. I should say that I have a mixed relationship with shoegaze. I’m forty-eight and been through the 80s-90s gazey years, and I love the walls of sound this genre has hissed out over the decades. But my prejudice comes from mumbling, lob-sided haircuts and a kind of poise that shrouds personality. I’m not accusing this record of those approaches, I’m just trying to account for my initial resistance. Prejudice even.
It would also be the first time I would ever hear Alastair Chivers’ voice, so I wanted those vocals to cut through the mix a little more. I thought it was such a nice concept to place this painter’s name at the start of your record. But perhaps I was harking back to the slicing up eyeballs of Bunuel and Dali from The Pixies’ Debaser… and you can’t unhear those words… I want someone in my home town to do the same to me. I want to be shocked. It’s clear that there are times when the vocal is mixed democratically without the need for frontman egos, and I champion that, and really just had to get over myself and meet the record on it’s own terms. At the time I just thought, there’s a lot of quality here, but maybe someone else wants to review it. And so I emailed my editor and we agreed I would send it back.
In the meantime I’d listened to it around six times. End to end.
I was trying to unearth why I had this initial reaction and more importantly the record began to grow on me. I emailed my editor, Keira, and said ‘actually, look leave it with me, I’ll spend one more weekend with it and send it over on Monday. It’s Monday now. I’ve spent at least one working day with this record now!
Now, when this kind of strong reaction to anything cultural happens to me, It usually says more about me than any music or theatre I’m reviewing, and regular readers will know that my reviews often touch on my personal life. You know. I’ve got a lot of shortcomings. My philosophy on why I choose to insert myself in these reviews, is that it’s part of the context. Music is all about whens, wheres and whys and moreover music is communication, so if I’m struggling to engage, I’ll try and work out, is it you? Is it me? I’m big enough to say lot of the time it’s me. Ask my wife, it usually is me.
So, with my shoulders dusted off and my wrists slapped by the blog and by myself and probably by False Bliss, here we go with round two.
I’m happy to report Ritual Terrains has been a nice grower. I think it could go a lot further and I am still not mad on the production and mixing but I’ll always be involved with the band from now on, purely because of this ever expanding review. But a grower it is.
And this is great news because most of the music I’ve loved, I’ve grown to love it. And at the risk of my JK Rowling word-count pile up, I’ll get on with it.
Any band that starts their record with a field recording of the ocean gets my attention especially when encroaching chords build a sea wall around this rousing if obscure opener. Other snippets of rain and atmospheres pop in and out of the record and I do love me a band with art leanings.
I now believe this is a heavyweight stomper of album – don’t expect art noodlings though. There’s some guttural metallic bass at times and – this pleased me – just when I thought to myself, this could do with an analogue-like synth right about now, an analogue-like synth appeared more than once.
At this point I thought that some of my initial resistance to the record might be track order. If it had began with these more upfront elements earlier, I would have probably accepted the sea-wash of gaze from the offset.
On the second track Tonic Banger (I couldn’t find lyrics) – there’s this refrain that sounds literally like ‘Kelso… where are you?’ I’d love it if it was a reference to Scottish Border towns, but who knows? It’s still hard to hear. The chord progression builds like a mid-career Wedding Present track.
I Am You You Are Me opens with a kind of vaudeville riff reminiscent of The Fall’s Eat Y’Self Fitter and sees the start of a slightly wider sonic palette encroach and rhythms multiply as the track evolves.
By the time we Enter The Forest, Katherine Aly enters the fray a little like a sibling of Mary Margaret O Hara – you may remember her from Morrissey’s November Spawned a Monster. This seems to be a favourite track of a lot of folk. It’s thicker and noisier than the rest and Katherine has a lot of oomph.
Tropicatie is a tight rhythm section led number that wouldn’t seem out of place on a late-era LCD Soundsystem record – and it’s nice to hear more playful poppies vocals here and nice also to see Alastair’s breadth.
To The Moon starts really nicely, sonically, but for this reviewer falls short of a potential trance due short track length and a little neutering – and would have been nice to have built into a primal, unforgiving wig-out.
Witching Party begins with a boutique synth loop and is slightly at odds with where it ends up – no bad thing, really – the wig-out I wanted on the previous track has ended up on here.
Silence is a lovely joy-fest of pure noise and comrades clapping at the end. But again, I want it built longer, and harder. I have the feeling that live, this band could do that and maybe this recorded format doesn’t quite fit.
At this point if I’m sounding overly critical, there’s maybe something unsaid here. I’m saying some tracks are not hard or long enough – but actually listened to in one sitting they do sometimes coalesce in an overarching work – perhaps not as seamlessly as it could be, but this album crucially sounds like itself.
The album’s closers tease with some nice portamento synth work which could be the clothesline in which to build a searing work around, but even as it’s own isolated entity is a nice to hear – although I find that the album generally has the synth and guitar works at odds with each other.
The actual closer I Will Eat Your Blood is an apt tense composition for this final point on the journey and partners the opening salvos on the record nicely ending with ascending chords and sweaty physical imagery.
Ritual Terrains is out now, via Scottish Fiction.