Archive - Controlling Crowds - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Archive - Controlling Crowds

by James Bray Rating:7 Release Date:2010-09-20

September 2010 sees the repackaging and first time UK release of parts I-IV of Controlling Crowds; the albums was released last year in continental Europe in two separate parts. Archive are relatively unknown in the UK but they have quite the following in countries such as France, Germany, Poland and Greece. Over 15 years and 8 albums, these purveyors of progressive trip hop have established a sound and an audience which has afforded sell-out tours around Europe and headline spots at certain festivals.

Archive's key members are Darius Keeler and Danny Griffiths, who are both veterans of the UK's electronic music scene of the late 80s and early 90s. The foundations of the group's music style lie in big beat, trip hop and electronica. Their dynamic musical style is characterised by the symphonisation of disparate musical elements. For example, the group often use morose piano melodies looped with industrial drum beats and melancholic synths or hip hop vocals combined with orchestral strings and electronic inflections. They make great use of trip hop's noir atmospherics but they also foray into psychedelic and progressive rock music. On Controlling Crowds the slow, but insistent beats, melodies and vocals coalesce to create a kind of musical collage of post modernity. The group favour a sweeping, cinematic sound that evokes the dehumanising effects of social alienation. Archive seem to use music to find the some rhyme or reason, some beauty in the various unsettling abstractions of contemporary urban life.

The distinctive, atmospheric sound is the unifying factor to a group that straddles many different styles and has had so many different vocalists over the years; namely Craig Walker, Rosko John and Maria Q. Archive's current line up consists of seven members, including John and Q, making the group a kind of avant-garde trip hop collective. This double album certainly does deliver in terms of the melancholic grandeur and the epic quality that Archive favour. However, this orchestral approach to trip hop was perfected by Massive Attack in the mid-90s and so, immediately, Archive's sound-tracking of modern life sounds somewhat dated. Even the forbidding urban landscape that they depict in their videos was done better in the 90s in videos like 'Come to Daddy' by Aphex Twin or 'Rabbit in Your Headlights' by UNKLE.

Controlling Crowds is such a large canvas (24 songs) that Archive suffer from glibness, which we see in the cliched paranoid ramblings that make up the lyrics for 'Dangervisit'. I'm not sure how helpful it is to mention the merits of individual tracks on such a big album, especially when the songs seep into each other have such elliptical titles as 'Clones', 'Whore', 'Chaos' and 'Remove'. Well, in any case, some of Controlling Crowds' best moments include the trip-rock of 'Lines', the sentimental bliss-out of 'The Empty Bottle' and the rousing manifesto of title track 'Controlling Crowds'. One of the reasons why Archive have had such success abroad could be that foreigners tend to romanticize the gritty urban beauty that the group depict in their work; it's understandable that their metropolitan symphonies wouldn't seem as exotic to the domestic market.

This album is very impressive in it's own way. It has great musical scope and diversity for what is essentially a trip-hop record. Nevertheless, for all it's laudable style, the album has no killer track and it's difficult for such a large collection of songs to be accessible
to an audience who are unfamiliar with the group's back catalogue. Unfortunately for Archive and their prospective British fans, Controlling Crowds has no cross-over hit like Sneaker Pimps' trip-pop classic '6 Underground'. Overall, the second side of the album (Controlling Crowds Part IV) is more successful than the first as the songs are marginally better and it feels more coherent than parts I-III. The whole double album could have been cut to create a more accessible final product. Although one could criticise Archive of exalting, romanticising, even fetishising urban alienation, on this double album they have created an immersive and ambient trip hop soundtrack. The problem is that Archive's vision of urban alienation is no longer entirely relevant.

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