I realise I do have a tendency to engage in hyperbole.
It’s an annoying habit, but you see I get excited about music.
And right now i’m pretty excited.
The new Amplifier album is out you see, although it’s not really an Amplifier album, it’s “Octopus” y’see. You have to follow the internal logic and the bands marketing here – to at least have a half a clue about what I am talking about. Suffice to say the three band members are those of Amplifier – i.e. Balamir, Mahony, and Brobin but for reasons which are explained coherently on the band’s website this release is specifically “The Octopus”. As the band say on the flier that comes with the album “Not even the third album by us. Just The Octopus in its own right”.
Yes……16 songs weighing in at 2 hours in length and covering two CDs. I’ve got the limited edition (one of 500) nicely signed by the band and wrapped up in a book/journal thingy which essentially an exercise in advance cryptography, as the text progressively reverts from alpha-numeric to symbols and requires a lot of attention to work your way through.
Released on a major?
Nope! All done either through Bandcamp or straight from the bands website where you can purchase a number of variations of releases – not easy to work out for the easily obfuscated ageing DJ here but great fun for all that. Â Three years to make and totally self-financed by the band so worthy of some detailed consideration methinks.
The opener “The Runner” sucks you in from the start – a mood piece capturing the attention with overlapping sounds and a great deal of growing tension. Â From thereon in the compulsion is to listen to the end just to find out what is going to happen next.
So what are we listening to here? Essentially intelligent. complex, progressive music of the rock ilk. This is pretty epic on a grand scale – and it’s Â not something to play to your aged Aunt Jemima on a Sunday afternoon over cucumber sandwiches and tea. What is impressive is the amount of damn noise three guys can make. Layers of riffs dominate for the most part and then complex songs kick in with picked fragile guitars which morph into flanged/fuzz monsters which chitter around an exciting rhythm section.Â Occasionally wunderkind Charlie Barnes plays keyboards and adds some more texture to the pieces. Balamir handles the vocal chores admirably and gets help every now and again from Mike Lennart, Claire Lemmon, Denise Johnson, and the amazing Rose Kemp (more about her in another review in the next day or so).
There are also some more atmospheric/musique concrete sections on the album which provide an effective counter-balance to the more “orchestral” parts.
You’ll want some sort of reference point here if you haven’t heard them before – and I’m trying not to do this as I shouldn’t really compare these guys with anyone as they stand very well in their own right as unique and cutting edge – but for those of you without the time to do the research thing let’s say “Porcupine Tree”, “Oceansize”, and Â “Opeth” as openers. Not typical of a band formed in Manchester at the time of the slow decline of post-punk but in another way sufficiently different from the trio of bands I’ve just mentioned to suggest something a little away from the usual raft of metal types. There’s a lot of melody here specifically amongst the mammoth riffing and “sturm und drang” bits. Another slight echo in my head – from a while back – is “Houses of the Holy” era Zeppelin – especially on “The Sick Rose” and “Fall of Empire” with their eastern scales. The aforementioned more relaxed sound experiments also remind me of early Floyd (Umma-Gumma) as well – especially the use of textures and laminal sounds.
This is an album you will need to set aside some time to listen to – there is a lot to absorb and all of it is valid. What is fascinating is the bravery in some of the pieces – the band are not afraid to use long silent sections to build tension for example. There is also sufficient variety – the moody and emotive “Bloodtest” is a good example, and the plaintive “Oscar Night” also – in the music to make an extended listen worthwhile.
I’ve been sent a lot of “rock” albums lately, music I would not normally listen to at any great length Â as it’s not got enough “jazz” in it, but I am observing in some bands Â a desire to break away from the confines of what can be a very narrow genre to listen to (aren’t they all to some extent…..) – this album manages to take the best of the accepted idiom and then add a number of different aspects which give it a more appealing feel. And there is also enough of a punk Â ethic in here in terms of discordance – “The Wave” for example has a pummelling garage feel to it – to attract those would not normally venture in this direction aurally.
I guess I will want to listen to this a few more times and I may well come back to this review at some point in the future with a few more observations on content and delivery – until then i’d say that if you want a change from the usual post-punk/post-rock stuff then take a listen to this
Band site merchandise page is here
You can listen to and buy the album digitally here