Tracer AMC – Islands – 7/10

Neumu, Tom Ridge

Purely instrumental rock is probably always going to be a fringe activity. Even at its most brutally direct (early Mogwai for example, or almost anything produced by Steve Albini) it retains a distinct air of cultish obscurity. Basically, it’s unlikely to trouble the mainstream, with its limited penetration usually confined to better known cult acts or media-designated “movements” (Tortoise in particular and post rock in general) or integrated into songs within a specific style or genre; the Allman Brothers’ jams, Television’s lengthier guitar explorations, substantial chunks of Can’s oeuvre.

This isn’t to say, though, that it’s not a worthwhile activity, just that it carries around a degree of notional baggage that puts it at something of a disadvantage in the wider marketplace. Tracer AMC, an instrumental four-piece from Northern Ireland, exist in an age where rock’s historical alignments and partisan stances have to an extent collapsed into one another, where a band can sound, at various moments, like Wishbone Ash AND Sonic Youth. And while they are relative latecomers to an amorphously vague strain of instrumental music (post rock, ambient rock; call it what you will), with the in-built disadvantage this implies, their triumph is to nullify any argument about the worth of their chosen path through the sheer beauty of their sound. Islands follows the course set by their debut in 2004, and while not deviating from it greatly, builds on its strengths to produce music that is accessible yet consistently inventive, melodic but subtly challenging. Bookended by the epic “Paper Machete” and “You Follow the Snow and Are Wasted,” the album showcases a deft sense of melody and the band’s ability to shift gear and alter the whole tone of a piece with the smallest of changes, adding to or subtracting from a broad sound palette in order to alter the music’s mood while still retaining a taut momentum.

With such smooth transitions in texture and tempo there’s always the danger of making this sound too easy, but there’s something about the consistency of these tracks that makes them thoroughly absorbing. Tracer AMC’s sound is a concentrated distillation of diverse elements, a streamlined combination of texture, shimmer and groove based on a twin guitar, bass and drums lineup, with its exploratory impulses offset by its seemingly effortless dynamism.

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