Archive - With Us Until You're Dead

by Mark Hammond Rating:7 Release Date:2012-08-27

Archive have been around for 18 years. Never one to be afraid of plummetting several leagues in the cool stakes, I readily confess that prior to this review I had no idea who Archive even are. Fortunately, my blushes were spared when I learned a little of the band's history.

Having released their first album Londinium on Island Records in 1996, Archive received plaudits from critics and peers alike. Peter Gabriel went so far as to cite Londinium as his favourite album of the year in a Q magazine interview. Despite this acclaim Archive abruptly split, only to reform soon after for the recording of Take My Head.

However, founding members Dan Griffiths and Darius Keeler described the album's creation as deeply unsatisfactory with relationships nettled by production problems. More woe would soon beset Archive with contractual complications surrounding Warner, effectively preventing the release of any recordings in their native UK. So for the next decade Archive, released eight albums, building a sizeable following on the Continent while remaining virtually unknown at home.

Now freed from that bind, Archive can finally present official releases in the UK via their own label, Dangervisit Records. Known primarily as a collective (a shudder-inducing term for me, typically) the line-up has undergone more changes than Renato Zero on a hot night in Napoli. On With Us Until You're Dead we're treated to four vocalists; Pollard Berrier, Holly Martin, Dave Pen and Maria Q.

The album opens with a deft, dramatic bent on 'Wiped Out'. By the time 'Violently' arrives, it's apparent why Griffiths and Keeler have attempted to interpret these songs live with the help of The Supersonic Symphony Orchestra. These songs traverse vast cinematic plains, from Massive Attack-trip-hop-tract to soulful armatures steeped in emotion.

Holly Martin steals the show on the track, singing the stone-cold line "I'm mentally fucked" with such matter-of-fact conviction that you disregard the dancy drum loops, astonished at such frank disclosure. 'Twisting' is the perfect examplar of the soul which suffuses the record, while single 'Hatchet' proffers a series of interesting hypotheticals: "If I had a pistol, it'd be yours to have/ You can shoot me in the head/ Blow a hole in my back".

Archive have stated that With Us Until You're Dead is a collection of love songs. As you can tell from the aforementioned lyrics, these are love songs of the macabre ilk, wrapped in lush, often overblown sonic soundscapes. Despite the fact the album was conceived as one flowing piece, the tracks cover such a wide range of styles that not only is momentum broken but the songs sometimes sit alongside each other as foreign neighbours in acrimony.

With Us Until You're Dead is a baroque soup of UNKLE-style electronica, soul and progressive rock which can take a lot of work to get your head around. At least now Archive aren't just the preserve of our European friends. Now we can 'officially' enjoy the challenge of their work.

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