Reviews - Week 34



the civil war


You don't own a record quite like this.
How can I be so sure? Well, it isn't entirely down to uncanny psychic abilities - I'm just willing to bet that there aren't too many people with instrumental concept albums on the subject of civil war.
And, even if there are, I'd be surprised if those records are as multi-faceted, eccentrically charming and - bizarrely - enjoyable as this one.

'Regicide' opens the proceedings, with an introduction that recalls the accompanying music to some medieval joust. That something is wrong in the kingdom becomes apparent when the hurdy gurdy fades to static, only for the music to return discordant, uneasy, unsettling.

Throughout, this album is characterised by such abrupt changes of mood, by music which flows from one style into something completely different. There is a playfulness and lightness of touch which helps to lull the listener into a false sense of security, only to snatch that away suddenly. 'Yield To Total Elation' sounds rather like an invitation - there are tinkling chimes blended with 80s style synth and a hint of rave. In comes a bassline, a skipping organ refrain and an electronic guitar and you're tempted to follow the invitation, to just float away and listen to the drums and the fireworks.

Except those aren't fireworks. This is the story of a war - 'Regicide' and 'Jealous Order Of Candied Knights' ('JOCK') set the scene with the deposal of a king, and a popular uprising. 'Reconstruction' and 'YTTE' continue the story with what appears to be a period of grace. 'For The Trees' is a mix of jazz, electronica, lounge-core, church organ music and country that drifts by almost serenely. Perhaps things look fine - if you ignore the guns.
Its with 'The Stars And Stripes Forever' that the facade begins to slip - the march degenerates into sinister circus music and then goes via tea-room dance into menacing Vincent Price ham horror territory. 'Pelt And Holler' feels like a gathering, rustles in the undergrowth, a plan being hatched and 'The Struggle Against Unreality Begins' makes it apparent that the new utopia is falling apart.
The final track, entitled 'For The Trees (Return)' evokes the fifth track - the same gentle, reassuring melody - the most peaceful, serene music to be found here, accompanied by the sounds of animals, and a cello and guitar which evoke grass growing and insects crawling. All the while, those guns echo quietly in the background. There's a devastating combination of the actions of man and the world outside our conflicts that continues regardless. No lyrics, no pompous sloganeering and yet (and perhaps because of this) the most effective musical comment I've heard on this war so far.

It might sound incongruous, then, that I should describe this as 'enjoyable' - and yet that's precisely what it is, for the most part. Matmos combine the sharpness and serious intent of Godspeed You Black Emperor with a sense of humour and levity more akin to the likes of Lemon Jelly (there are echoes of 'The Staunton Lick' in 'Reconstruction') - this is the only album I've seen where, alongside the usual musical credits, are those for instruments such as 'sewer pipe'; 'apple' and 'copy of Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy being dropped on the floor' (in 'The Stars And Stripes Forever' - the symbolism isn't too oblique).

'The Civil War', then, is bemusing, but rarely fragmented, bizarre yet familiar and amusing yet sobering. Think of all the musical references I've quoted, add about a hundred more that I missed, and shove them in some grand randomly-swirling kaleidoscope. Perhaps you're vaguely close. This is in no way background music. Matmos demand and deserve your complete attention. Give it to them, if you can, it will be repaid.

So, I'm sure you don't own a record quite like this. It might not be a bad time to change that.

Ian Anscombe




Airport Girl

Do you dream in colour? (EP)

Matinee Recordings

Still mourning the loss of the summer? Broken Hearted? Or just in need of a bit of colour to add to your life?
If so you could do a lot worse than listening to "Do you Dream in colour" the EP released by Airport Girl in mid September. The eight piece band from Nottingham, have created a full sound, crammed full of all the magic of pop. The EP contains the ideal mix of songs: happy enough to lift your spirits but carefully balanced so it is not sickening sweet leaving you with the impression that it is written by people who understand.

"Do you dream in colour" the title track of this EP is the perfect music to listen to when the sun hangs lazy and low in a autumn sky. Filled with longing and regret counter balanced by the optimistic sounding introduction Strings slide smoothly over a catchy guitar/drums combination. The song plays with your emotions by mixing pain with hope, the past with the future, and remorse with desire.

"When you fall" charges quickly and confidently through what could otherwise be a slightly dejected tale. The catchy trumpet sticks in your head long after the song has disapeared.

"Easier To Smile" is most upbeat song on the EP. The happy pop song forcefully tells the story of fighting back and entices you to do the same. Or at least get up and dance around the house. The buoyant melody and bubbly singing are almost guaranteed to lift the spirits. Watch out though… if you aren't careful it'll having you singing along to the "shoo dobi dos" too.

Even the mellow "Been Waiting" offers comfort. The poignant lyrics combine with a slow rhythmic swaying sound which reaches a gentle peak of contentment and acceptance. It leaves you feeling relaxed and calm and well prepared to:
"bide your time and see what happens"

Rachel Queen



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