Tuesday, 7 February 2012

reviews: icarus, matthew bourne, the law

Icarus - Fake Fish Distribution

Icarus - Fake Fish Distribution (***)

Icarus’ ninth album presents something of a conundrum for reviewers. Fake Fish Distribution reconfigures the notion of limited edition physical releases for a digital environment, restricting its purchase to 1000 ‘unique downloads.’ The latter phrase is not as oxymoronic as you might expect: through algorithms and “parametric techniques” we won’t pretend to understand, each downloader will receive a singular, structured variation of the music, with no two versions of the album alike.

As a concept, it’s academically provocative, raising myriad questions pertaining to digital ownership and artistic expression. As an album of music, it’s… well, that’s harder to call. Juddering, syncopated beats and a dense, sometimes atonal atmosphere make for a challenging listen, though nothing so demanding as, say, Autechre at their most impenetrable. But while the album’s inventive, electric storm is repeatedly rewarding, our enthusiasm must be measured: after all, your version could be guff for all we know.

Out Now

Matthew Bourne - Montauk Variations

Matthew Bourne - Montauk Variations (****)

There’s much to admire about Matthew Bourne – the good grace with which he takes being regularly confused with the ballet choreographer of the same name, for instance, or his maverick inter-genre curiosity (in addition to these solo piano/cello pieces, Bourne’s “Scott Walker + Meshuggah” outfit Bilbao Syndrome promise a full-length in 2012). Then there’s his sharp sense of humour, demonstrated by sleeve notes which follow a paragraph of self-analysis pondering the inspirational qualities of “personal unquietness, solitude and heartbreak” with the summation that “this idea was bullshit.”

But the bulk of praise should be levelled at his boundless talent, both technical and compositional; his improvisational skills are already renowned in jazz circles, and these pieces sound precise and consummate without exception. Whether mellow and romantic (Juliet) or tumultuously erratic (Étude Psychotique), Bourne’s work is ceaselessly inventive and always absorbing, with a wistful cover of Chaplin’s Smile at the close to seal the deal.

The Law - Trigger

The Law - Trigger (**)

You can see why much of The Law’s reputation has come from their live shows: I’d hazard their music sounds best when you’re a few jars down and feeding off the energy of a core crowd of died-in-the-wool enthusiasts. Without such stimulants to hand, their second album sounds tired and conservative, a handful of moments aside – see first single Holiday’s breezy lure, or 7th Avenue, which underscores its title’s Springsteen echo with a nicely-judged saxophone.

Otherwise, Trigger demonstrates little in the way of originality, with repeats both specific (the verse of The Moon Is All owes a debt to Marillion’s soft-rock paragon Kayleigh) and more general: on Paraglide, vocalist Stuart Purvey’s accent journeys south to chum with Burgess and co, while Time By a Side suggests Marchin’ Already’s a well-worn tour-van favourite. There’s a punishing lack of ambition – actual ambition, not just swaggering self-assurance – that means Trigger ultimately fires blanks.

Out Now

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