Reviewed by James Vella (cdreviews.com)
Warning: this is not your typical Planet m album. For those expecting ever-changing glitch beats and deftly woven electronica, for once m does not deliver. This, however, is no bad thing. Where the majority of m artists (here I’m thinking of Venetian Snares, m-ziq, Jega) opt for instrumental, engaging digital blips and squarks (or, in the case of Frog Pocket and edIT, digital blips and squarks nestling cosily into a backdrop of acoustic guitars and barely audible vocals), Julian Fane is something different. Of course, there does exist a fair few indications of which label we have in mind here – the electronic percussive tracks and synth sections give away the vital clues - but all of this is subtly and effectively anchored by a foot set firmly in the analogue world of post rock.
It’s astonishing to consider that a man of just 21 years could create such a record as Special Forces; every careful string arrangement and gently whispered lyric sounds like the work of the established and practiced, or, at least, a full ensemble of backing musicians and co-writers. Opening with ambient, windy synths that give way to a vocal chorus, heartbeat-esque drums and what sounds like reversed xylophone recordings with ‘Disaster Location’ - a track that could easily have featured on a Sigur Rós album had they wanted to take a more electronic direction – every track on Special Forces uses a similar mix of spine-tingling synthesised sound and full textures of instruments and vocals. The beautiful cello ostinato opening ‘Safety Man’ leading into, again, reversed acoustic instruments (but this time with a militarial marching snare and a voice so soft it could’ve been whispered by a ghost) is an example of how evocative and personal this record is, a stunning and emotionally stirring snapshot into the mind of the young Canadian, in which choirs of angels must sing to every thought.
The pace is quickened by the undulating rhythms of ‘Freezing In Haunted Waters’ (a track title so perfectly capturing an album had never existed before), and yet again Fane’s poignant and wide-eyed voice seeps through the gloriously elevating textures. Surprisingly, for an album of this nature, in which the songs are united by a common theme, rather than a collection of tracks, there is a stand-out track, which is the utterly unsurpassable ‘The Birthday Boys’, which builds up and up and up for almost 3 minutes before ending in a gorgeous final chord sequence that really couldn’t be found anywhere else, despite this being Fane’s first release (an impressive accomplishment in itself).
Put simply, to stay dry-eyed through this record would be a mean feat.
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