Marconi Union – Different Colours
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Ploughing your own furrow can be a lonely, not to mention dangerous pursuit. Too isolated from a scene, bands can find themselves sounding ‘out of time’ – this can, of course, cut both ways. Records that might fit perfectly in 1998, or 2028, by looking only inwards, run the risk of becoming too niche, too take-it-or-leave-it.
“We’ve never been part of a scene and never wanted to be,” say Marconi Union, and after five albums (Different Colours is their sixth), the field they’ve dug looks like a good place to be.
It certainly sounds good – the lush electric piano and snappy percussive sounds on this album are rich, clear, classy.
First Light, opening the album, is a pretty good calling card – squirty loops, jazz brushes, little dub flurries, sedate electric piano all combine to create an atmosphere that is best described as cinematic. Nothing as crass as ‘imaginary soundtrack to a spy movie’, but certainly placing sound in a way that suggests widescreen, long exposures, time lapse – a feeling reinforced by Alone Together, where space guitar twangs punctuated by Deepchord-like pulses move onto to something more jazz inflected. And while the tracks that make up Different Colours don’t exactly sound like what we think of as ‘jazz’ – the way the tracks are arranged, sequenced as blocks of themes and textures certainly owes something to that end of the spectrum.
Actually, library music, or at least those artists drawing from that pool, might be a useful touchstone here – the slowly vibrating mallets and organ of Always Numb recall the sci-fi influenced fictions of Mark Pritchard and Dave Brinkworth’s Harmonic 33 outfit, while there are hints of Sven Libaek (unearthed by Trunk Records) in the rotating pulses of Time Lapse.
But Different Colours is very much its own character – the electric pianos, jazzy though they may be, remain anchored to the pulse that lies at the spine of most of these tracks, any hints of space-age-bachelor music is kept in check by purposeful, piercing ellipses of electric-guitar lines (Time Lapse, Flying). A lightness of touch throughout means the jazz/dub/soundtrack feel to the songs never sounds laboured, bolted on – these touches are the seed of the tracks, not the icing. Some of this must be attributed to the mix; individual elements are played off perfectly against each other, so there is clarity – the snap of the drums, the waver of Rhodes – as well as grit – the granular, radio textures that skirt around the edges of the themes here.
This is relaxed music, yes, but focused and precise too. There is enough widescreen longing and sedate electric-piano to satisfy late Sundays and cinema trips, but there is also just enough bite to dismiss any thoughts of a ‘downtempo’ revival.
Not afraid to wear its smartness on its sleeve, Different Colours is a confident statement, Marconi Union’s raised flag to doing it their way.
- John Boursnell for Fluid Radio