Sunday, 9 August 2009

Troubled, Shaken Etc.

On Thursday, Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen played host to the launch party for Sian Alice Group’s new album, Troubled, Shaken Etc., released on The Social Registry. After missing them at Field Day I was determined to get to this one, despite it being probably the wettest night of the summer so far - appropriate given the musical programme for the evening, which also included Brighton band Esben & The Witch; both bands excel at creating a surprising density of atmosphere given the stark nature of their songcraft. I covered the event for Muso’s Guidethe full review is here.

The reliability of bad weather during the summertime is strangely comforting – you know what you’re in for every year like clockwork, and I'm not really down with the whole scorching hot thing so I find watching the rain gradually filling the gutters pretty relaxing as long as I’m sat under a bus shelter or something similar. Troubled, Shaken Etc. explores these same emotionally ambiguous territories; the glassy droplets that usher in ‘Close To The Ground’ and the cyclical Glass-esque piano figures that litter its length raise feelings akin to lying in bed on a cold night as a storm pounds overhead. Sian Ahern’s voice is the keystone here, acting both as human focal point and as an instrument in its own right, due to her curious ability to be at times both intimate and coolly implacable.

Whilst last year’s 59.59 was an album of contrasts – moments of straightforward and often nakedly pretty songwriting like ‘Way Down To Heaven’ were sat alongside extended interludes of instrumental experimentation – Troubled, Shaken Etc. differs in that it integrates these two sides of the band’s personality into more drawn out songs. The fact that this approach works so successfully is testament to the integrity of ‘the album’ as an entire statement of intent, even now when it’s so easy to whack an mp3 player on shuffle, or buy only the songs you’re immediately interested in. In that sense it ranks alongside Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as the most coherent listen of the year so far – I’ve not once felt the urge to skip forward past tracks I’m less familiar with or not immediately touched by, and the sit-down-and-absorb approach lends the subtler moments gravitas when juxtaposed with the motorik attack of ‘Longstrakt’ or the tribal thump of ‘Close To The Ground’.

One thing that most of the bands on The Social Registry I’ve heard share is an almost pathological disdain for any conventional notion of ‘genre’. Gang Gang Dance essentially created their own with God’s Money, an assimilation of the detritus of pop culture which they honed further still on last year’s Saint Dymphna. Troubled, Shaken Etc. follows in the same uncategorisable vein, fusing elements of a host of influences both musical and not to a rock songwriting framework. As I mentioned in the review above, this magpie approach – minimal techno synth loop on ‘Vanishing’, album highlight ‘First Song – Angelina’s spidery piano work - brings them closer to any definition of 'post-rock' than any other artist I could care to name, and pretty much puts paid to the idea that anything under that genre tag has to conform to the moribund slow-build-big-crescendo stereotype. Either way, it’s a hugely rewarding listen and one which, given that I’ve only had it a few days, looks like it will continue to reveal its riches over a far longer period of time.

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