Tunnels - The Blackout

by Rich Morris Rating:5 Release Date:2011-08-15

The side-project of Nick Bindeman, of experimental psych bands Eternal Tapestry and Jackie-O Motherfucker, Tunnels is heavily indebted to the more jarring, proto-industrial sounds of late 70s post-punk: Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, The Normal, John Foxx. In this sense, The Blackout inhabits a very similar sound-world to John Maus' own recent release, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. However, where that record felt like an affectionate, sometimes geeky homage, The Blackout frequently oversteps the boundaries of outright copyism. 'Volt 79' even samples the pop and churn of Cabaret Voltaire's deathless 'Nag Nag Nag' yet fails to do anything new or interesting with it. Then there's 'Red Road', which kicks off with a clanging, tinny beat so like the opening of Flock Of Seagulls' 'Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)' it might as well be a sample even if it isn't. Like Oasis recruiting Ringo Starr's son on drums, such music exists in a pointless place beyond slavish tribute.

This is frustrating because when Bindeman pushes the sonic envelope he gets some interesting, arresting results. The sparse beats, icicle synths and warped vocals of opening track 'Crystal Arms' are obviously indebted to Cabaret Voltaire's 'Silent Command' but Bindeman also throws in a serpentine bassline straight out of Unknown Pleasures to create something exciting. Meanwhile, ambient piece 'Moon Bombs', which closes the album, sounds like a post-apocalyptic Tangerine Dream, complete with dispossessed whale cries. It's brief and contains no vocals but it's the most imaginative thing on here.

With such great moments to be found, it's a real shame that Bindeman for the most part draws so explicitly on his influences. His sour, metallic John Foxx/David Sylvian croon with its mannered, third-hand Bowie vowels (this from a resident of Oregon!) is like a little prod every time you hear it on 'How I Hate You' or 'Dead Ringers', reminding you exactly who did this stuff first. The artists Bindeman draws inspiration from still don't get enough recognition for the ground-breaking music they made, but surely the best way to honour them is not to rip off their sounds wholesale?

As with Maus' We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, I'm consistently reminded of Patrick Cowley's Catholic, who made music like this before most artists named in this review but remained unknown until a couple of years ago. Is there a link between the rediscovery of that band and albums such as this? I don't know but, despite some highlights, it's hard to listen to The Blackout and not feel depressed at how music which was once so uncompromisingly futuristic has become nothing more than another collection of tricks and gimmicks to be pillaged.

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