Blueneck - King Nine - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Blueneck - King Nine

by Steve Rhodes Rating:8.5 Release Date:2014-11-17

A band that has been secretly hidden away in the wilderness, North Somerset-born and currently Bristol-based Blueneck are finally popping their heads out, helped by higher profile appearances at London's Beyond the Redshift and Bristol's increasingly excellent ArcTanGent festivals, as well as a Glastonbury appearance this year. After four strong albums in the last 10 years, they return with King Nine, continuing on with their delightful, muted vocals, post-rock and ambient murmurings. Like fellow blissful noise-gatherers ILikeTrains and The Twilight Sad, they have increasingly embraced electronics, beefed-up production and clarity, and turned the volume up when necessary to produce a great album full of melody and melancholy which neatly soundtracks the cold, winter nights, without resorting to supporting evidence for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

'Country Nine' is a strong introduction, with minor-key piano, strings without the melodrama, drums and chiming guitars, backing Duncan Attwood's vulnerable, understated vocal, not a million miles from The Blue Nile or Catherine Wheel's more introspective moments. The sound is much fuller than the intricate previous records but it doesn't lessen the outcome of a deeply melodic song which tweaks the heart-strings, without being set as a default cynical option.

With a reverbed guitar driving the melodies, the song progresses similar to an upbeat Elbow's 'Any Day Now' in its mantric hypnotism. It almost stops near the end with just an echoed vocal and muted piano and organ for company, as if an epitaph or a song holding on in its death throes.

'Sirens' continues the vulnerability with plaintive synths and a slow Rock Action-era Mogwai piano, but adds subtle electronica and a repetitive 'siren' buried deep, enhancing the delivery. Duncan's vocal is slightly treated, as it is on much of the electronically-enhanced songs on the album, which feels a little unnecessary at times, as his voice can easily match the instrumentation, but neither does it detract from the impact, culminating in a track that nods towards The Beloved or Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden, but maintains its own strong identity, especially as it builds into the crescendo-less finale.

Title track 'King Nine' takes electronica further in its percussion and the warblings of 70s sci-fi synths in its sparse opening. Duncan's vocal is barely sung at a lower range, before the songs opens out and Duncan's vocal becomes more treated, multi-tracked and vocodered to roboticism.

A higher vocal is layered on, adding substance and beautiful percussion. Strings appear, building the textures, urgency and volume of the song. Brass appears late in the track, adding further depth, leaving Duncan to repeat “Lock me up, alone” on a beautiful, poignant song.

'Man of Lies' adds to the electronic repertoire with its lighter, Fuck Buttons opening, along with analogue synth, electronic drums and quickly-played keys a la John Carpenter or Mike Oldfield. The vocal again is slightly treated and echoed in a restrained song that opens out into an emphatic close, with louder, electronic affects added later in the track. Again deeply mournful, but not morose, the instrumentation is a perfect fit with the changes in tempo and volume.

'Mutatis' is probably the best track, summing up the old and new directions with its melodies, propelled by piano, quiet guitar, chilling brass, and lyrics (“I'm losing faith/ feeling afraid/This tumour takes, over-complicates”, and “I could use this pain to be near you again”) taking a disconsolate, haunted stance, but backed by synths and subtle electronics. Taking the Mogwai quiet/loud rulebook and then discarding it, the song explodes and retreats but adds more substance each time. A dark, intense number with hints of optimism that sits perfectly with these times.

‘Father, Sister’ is a further progression. With added drive and pulse, it propels along in a manner similar to 2:54, The Maccabees, and Baltic Fleet. With the drums and guitars higher in the mix, and the keys and synths more impactive, it is a rousing song that perhaps hints at a direction to come, as it seems a little at odds with much of the album, though that is certainly not a bad thing.

The band’s more understated songs are equally represented and effective here. 'Broken Fingers' is a great example of the effect of Duncan's vocal, how it complements the yearning accompaniment of piano, percussion and strings, and how it has progressed and improved in clarity between albums.

'Spiderlegs' drops the pace even further but the melodies remain. Beginning with a deeply buried vocal, backed with echoed piano and peaceful and haunting noises, the song becomes lighter and less intense when the strings force their way in, leading to a stunning close with sweepings synths and a piano to die for. Just fragile beauty at its best and the highlight of a glorious album.

Leaving on a high, 'Anything Other Than Breathing' is an upbeat finale. Though a little inert at first, it neatly builds, without overplaying the grandiose card. Vocal and piano-led, buried, guitar-shrills and subtle keys are added, leading into an extended instrumental flourish, full of descending chords and reflective notes, which leaves the listener full of positivity after a somewhat downbeat (though terrific) album.

A rival to their 2011 masterpiece Repetitions, Blueneck have produced a moving album in King Nine that embraces new directions which, though they may at times alienate their loyal fanbase, will open them up to new and widening audiences. This is a brooding, expansive, atmospheric collection of songs, full of personal confessions, which enchants and gets under your skin in equal measure, and a positive progression if not a clean break from their impressive back-catalogue.

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