Tracer AMC – Flux & Form – Alternative Ulster Review
Alternative Ulster, Hack Startling
Amid considerable local interest, Tracer AMC, simultaneously one of our finest and most perplexing acts, have finally committed to the full length album treatment, and on their own terms. A definitive “thesaurus” act, their atypical, vocal-free soundscaping and quiet-loud live epics have been wowing and bewildering audiences for significantly longer and with a more supportive fanbase than the average unsigned band ever achieves. Ever the square peg, these brave fellows have now grasped the nettle and pushed this out to the nations on their own label.
The good news for purists is that their trademark textures never let up from one track to the bittersweet end, with near-identikit drum production, pedal work and technique from song to song. Certainly the dynamics whisper and yell as expected, but even one sympathetic key signature too many can place one track in danger of sinking into another with not much let up or relief. Without due care, minutes of arpeggios, tickled drums and wafting harmonics can flock by almost unheard; the lack of instrumental contrast requires an attention span well beyond the usual “post rock” opus. But while this is decisively not an album for operating heavy machinery to, it’s no crime for a piece of music to ask a little work from its audience. Rewards for perseverance and concentration are delivered in tight performances and ambitious musicianship. By turns playful, sorrowful, languid and furious, their skill as a band is remarkable, and they know each other uncommonly well.
Tracer AMC’s lack of a frontman has been taken for a selling point, hailed as a virtue and damned as a handicap, with a subtle scene buzz that they’d have long since gone national with a capable singer at the centre. Is the right vocalist not capable of making a beautiful sound too? Whether this band’s unconventional dogma is a political mechanism to maintain egocentric stability or, more suitably romantically, a genuine conviction that their course is vocationally, unswervably true, their chosen consistency doesn’t quite stretch across the length of the album unscathed; there is the occasional wanting interval where it feels as though some phantom vocalist has popped out for a fag and left the band playing accompaniment to nothing. Live, of course, this is one of Tracer AMC’s most attractive qualities – space to fill in the blanks and let the mind wander in an almost classical reverie – but without the communion of a Tracer AMC gig, an ear-piercing PA and the affable sight of these earnest blokes veering between sullen strumming and getting medieval on their instruments, the domestic experience needs a little ketchup.
The significance of this release to the local music scene is undeniable, and Tracer AMC are guaranteed extravagant short-term praise for the efforts, whether the result warrants a Palm Sunday or not. Thankfully, despite some points of dissatisfaction and falling slightly short of the mark while gamely attempting to bottle their own peculiar essence, they have created a consistent, challenging and often very beautiful work. Having arguably released the best commercially available local rock record since Screamager (for whatever that is worth), they surely have it within them, if they push past their doctrinal restraints and studio inhibitions, to become truly special and deliver us our first classic album. No pressure.