We Love 005 Islands CDLP

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.


Posted at 9am on 23/12/05 | Comments Off on Tracer AMC – Islands – 7/10 read on

Tracer AMC – Islands – BBC ATL Review

BBC ATL, Stuart Bailie

When American soul musicians want their music to get a bit special, somebody whispers “take it to church” – and immediately the music gets more intense, maybe even sanctified. And loosely, that’s what sometime happens on the new Tracer AMC record.

You can hear the process taking place about eight minutes into ‘Paper Machette’, when the guitar preambles and the mesmeric phrases start to actually mean something and the music sounds holy and true. It’s further proof that Tracer have reached a new level of their art. It’s no longer an indie conceit, the idea of some cool abstraction. These people are emphatically in the zone.

Yes, there are some imperfect moments. ‘In Rivers’ has an uneven flow and the whammy wobble of ‘Rainboat’ is overdone. But mainly, this is rich music for the head and the soul. Instrumental guitar music, expressed through a rack of effects pedals is a famous indulgence trap, but ‘Islands’ is largely spared.

They finish with ‘You Follow The Snow And Are Wasted’, which takes up a quarter of an hour. That’s a great demand on any listener’s life, and they threaten to scare us off after five minutes, but your trust is finally rewarded with a sublime view from the peaks and then a gentle descent towards base camp. See you back there, presently.


Posted at 9am on 10/11/05 | Comments Off on Tracer AMC – Islands – BBC ATL Review read on

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.

Posted at 9am on 25/09/05 | Comments Off on Tracer AMC – Islands – Hot Press review read on

Tracer AMC – Islands – Eclectic Honey Review

Eclectic Honey, Michelle Dalton

Make no mistake, these aren’t easy songs. You won’t find a short and sweet chunk of rugged no-questions-asked math rock anywhere on Islands. But what the album loses out on in terms of pop sensibilities it gains ten times over from the brilliantly delivered lush complexity.

When opener Paper Machete starts throwing its weight around a mere minute and a half in, a journey through a haunting and capricious terrain ensues. But rather than being swallowed up and lost at sea by the ambition that drenches Tracer AMC’s song structures, Jonny Ashe and Michael Kinloch grapple deftly with the underlying premises, and they deal effortlessly with the challenges posed by the melodic lament of Concorde, the understated brooding of Song for V or the whispered Willow Drive Hoboken which is gently nudged into place. The energy harnessed behind Indiscopia almost makes you want to get up and dance, which is more than a little surprising for such chin-stroking instrumentalists like Tracer AMC.

Islands is every bit as good as their excellent debut Flux and Form, and then some. A lot of people don’t like post rock, in which case Islands probably won’t be the album that will convert them. It’s a much too subtle, complex and brilliant record to attract the casual listener. For the instrumental guitar freaks among us though, Islands is probably the must-have record of the year.


Posted at 9am on 24/09/05 | Comments Off on Tracer AMC – Islands – Eclectic Honey Review read on