Tracer AMC – Islands – Hot Press review

Hot Press, Colin Carberry

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that instrumental rock music seems to draw down upon itself unimaginative dullards like a giant indie plug-hole. We’ve all seen them – those bands full of greasy-haired blokes, capable of clearing venues with their curious blend of passive-aggressive (look at me-don’t look at me) and fetishistic obscurism.

They should stop; because they really do give this often startling style of music a bad name.

Tracer AMC are very much in that elite minority. The suspicion lingers that if Alex Donald and Jonny Ashe (ably assisted by Michael Kinloch and Keith Winter) were a tad more assertive, they’d find themselves praised and lauded well beyond Belfast by now. But then you can hardly expect a band that feels no need for a vocalist to go shouting from the roof-tops.

Not that, when they do eventually open their mouths, you’ll hear them complaining. In fact you will more than likely be bowled over by their untypical enthusiasm and can-do spirit. In the six years since their formation, they have proved themselves to be the most resourceful and unflaggingly energetic band in Christendom – promoting shows, buildings studios, establishing labels, designing sleeves, running PR campaigns.

Along the way, they’ve also produced some incredible music – last year’s debut album Flux And Form defied the circumstances of it’s creation (some parts were recorded in a toilet in the Lisburn Road) to roar home with a confidence and a swagger not normally found in an act of this vintage.

And now we come to this, Islands, a record that is simultaneously more expansive and microscopically intimate, and in places (‘Paper Machete’, ‘In Rivers’) even makes you think of Talk Talk – so sophisticated is the music on offer. Listen to ‘Chalk’ and you’ll be left in no doubt that Tracer have a meltdown or two in them when the need arises, but thankfully they’ve decided to use Islands (with it’s cellist, glockenspiel, and intriguing electronics) as an opportunity to show how light on their feet they are. Closing track ‘You Follow The Snow And Are Wasted’ is a case in point – there’s a storm brewing, but all the colour comes out during the cloud breaks.

Sure, this won’t float everyone’s boat, but if you are prepared to take a gamble on a destination you’ve never tried before, then Islands is well worth the crossing.


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