'we had the idea to put vocals in the music a while ago but we always intended that they should be treated as another instrument. We’ve used them in a way that sits really naturally so the music and the vocals don't feel like separate entities'
So says Errors' Steev Livingstone, referring to Have Some Faith in Magic. At least it was deliberate. In an album that flops and flobbles its way through almost an hour's worth of over-busy melodic hooks, keyboard licks, drippy reverbed guitars and splashy cymbal crashes – demoting the vocal to the role of vaguely chanted atmospherics loping around in the back of the soundfield (strangely similar to the simulated crowd noise on FIFA 92 for the Megadrive), is just one zany tripped-out affectation too far.
inspirational deodorant-advertisement panoramas of clean, icy, rugged manliness
It's especially apparent on 'Tusk' – where 80s electro-funk basslines flab around under a Sakamoto synth-plinky keyboard figure and splashy snare beats with periodic whacks on cymbals that are a) short and b) the kind of cheesy dramatics that 80s synth bands made it their primary modus operandum to eradicate from their music. Meandering over and around the whole is an overdriven slow lead guitar dirge. It's sugary and overblown, attempting inspirational deodorant-advertisement panoramas of clean, icy, rugged manliness. In actuality it suffers from the sonic equivalent of GoreTex and Lycra, where it attempts to be bearhide and bones. Tusk? Nordic walking pole, more like.
'Magna Encarta' displays an over-dependence on OMD albums for inspiration, with anthemic indie vocals groaning distantly over an over-egged mishmash of a song that is at one moment a wobbly synth popsong, at others a Madchester post-rave echofest. Periodcally, it is studded (STUDded) with the guitar and drums bombast of school metal-band axe-antics. If you try very hard, the elements gel together, and to be fair, the momentum isn't ever lost. But it's a bit cacophonous at best, downright annoying at worst.
'Blank Media' just too naggingly close to late 80s/early 90s voice/electronica offerings by the likes of The Beloved to really convince. Some will find the sharpness of the guitar that cuts through the over-riding synthwash that bathes much of the album to be adequate sonic anchoring. It's hard to be convinced of that though, when too often it is an incongruous and inappropriately central distraction from a wall of sound that is amorphous and flabby enough to need a very distinct and singular voice to draw the attention. A so-so guitar sound meandering across the top of the distracted background and jock-rock drum beats just doesn't suffice.
an incongruous and inappropriately central distraction from a wall of sound that is amorphous and flabby
Lead single 'Pleasure Palaces' is saved by a compelling enough bassline drive and some intricate treble melody to cut through the washed out vocal chanting, Sakamoto (again) atmospherics and the ubiquitous Abisynth top-end texturing. Where the New Order influence of basslines and layered synth patterns dominate, it works. Where they don't, and it ends up sounding a bit like Happy Mondays' 'Hallelujah', it doesn't.
There is an offputting, tongue-in-cheek cleverness to the album that is nothing short of irritating. Characterised by a pastiche approach to a synthesiser aesthetic that was never terribly convincing in the period where such things were still considered new and exciting, in its best moments the album nods towards the type of musical level-headedness that The Art of Noise managed to make their own. But when the homage to the period is laid on too thickly, it becomes too close to one of those 'The Sound of the Synthesiser' cassette tapes that were once advertised by K-Tel ('not available in shops').
The early exponents of synthesiser composition were of two distinct groups – the musicians who imagined a role for the modulated sounds, sequenced loops and sampled soundbytes that new technology offered, and who integrated them into compositional structures in a way which fit. Kraftwerk, Cabaret Voltaire, Martin Hannett, Rick Wakeman, and a whole slew of others (depending upon personal preference, where you call home, how long your fringe is, and when you were born) were of that category.
On the other side of the divide were the dabblers, whose approach saw the new range of sounds that a synthesiser could bring to a piece of music as a way of adding an instantly modern and whizzbang gloss to an otherwise traditional song, and who got too hung up on the 'amazing' possibilities that synthesised sounds could bring to a piece of music to stop and find a way of using those sounds as anything more than a gimmicky addition. Hence the eye-watering production on Sinatra's 'L.A. is My Lady' or the cringingly awful helicopter sounds on Billy Joel's 'Good Night Saigon'.
Too often Errors sound as if they have been plundering the legacy of the early synthesiser days, but without taking enough care to be sure they are picking from the best of what was there. Influence is a legitimate (if too oft-employed) compositional tool for any musician, and within reason, is acceptable and expected. But the advantages of hindsight should surely be taken – plunder the good stuff, dammit, not the dross.
no driving groove, no single melodic hook, no beguiling vocal or lyric, no nagging, insistent beat
'Earthscore's busy glitter and Jan Hammer keyboard drive is compelling enough until the football chanting and faux-Telecaster lend it the over-spread, unfocused repetition that dogs almost every song on the album. There always seems to be one element too many, but with no driving groove, no single melodic hook, no beguiling vocal or lyric, no nagging, insistent beat to draw the ear along. 'Cloud Chamber' avoids some of the pitfalls by holding to a strong bassline and some crafty eight-bit melodic loops, but the distant echoey vocals and synthfroth err too far to the cheesier end of Enigma's MCMXC a.D. to be anything other than knuckle-bitingly embarrassing to listeners familiar with the slew of chants-set-to-beats that clogged the summer charts of the early 90s with the obstinance of a recalcitrant turd stuck in a u-bend.
There may be depths to the album, vast swathes of references to a period and style of popular music, bringing everything from the production wizardry of Trevor Horn to the hypnotic grandiosity of The Doves, via New Order, OMD and skagged-out guitar indie. Hipper people will grasp its post-electro referential irony immediately. Ten tracks into the album, something of that arch self-awareness of style begins to become apparent. But by then, it's just a relief to know the bloody thing is finished.
Out January 30th, Rock Action Records