Archive Finally Find Their Form Once Again

Evolving much like the trip-hop scene did in the 1990’s, Archive’s subsequent albums after their sensational debut Londinium both strayed and departed from the more classic sense of the genre word. With the exception of their sophomore effort Take My Head their style has been leaning towards a more alternative rock sound, much like another so-called trip-hop group UNKLE did with War Stories. Unfortunately, even with an improved form in their next 2 albums from their first alternative style effort You All Look The Same To Me it was pale in comparison to their debut and sophomore effort. Londinium had everything you wanted from a trip-hop band in the 90’s - the dark vibes, sleek atmospheres, soulful vocals from former member Roya Arab, and intricate rhymes of Rosko John. Although their sophomore effort was excellent in its own right, it still had an achingly high void in which its predecessor was great for. With each new release Archive strayed from the tag that genre of trip-hop was stamped on them and with every album I wanted more of that very thing. So its been nearly 15 years since their debut and thus 2009’s Controlling Crowds shows the general scope of the band, mixing both old and new, with great results.

I mention their transformation because it would be a crime to pigeonhole this band, just as you wouldn't pigenohole other dynamic groups. Archive's manifestation on Controlling Crowds isn't really toppled with more of their new approach. The general rock atmosphere is quite subdued when compared their previous albums. The electronic push throughout most of these tracks are noticed extremely quickly. Vocally the Archive's main ambitions layed within their hip-hop contributor Rosko John and female vocalist Roya Arab, but things inevitably change, as did this band's sound. Like recent albums Controlling Crowds rely on a male vocalist instead of the more traditional female vocalist, but more importantly the one thing that has really changed from Noise or even the heavily prog rock You All Look The Same To Me is the fact Archive have manage to meld both trip-hop and their best moments of progressive rock. Oddly enough this album feels more like a soundtrack then anything else. The single "Bullets" is catchy and takes the same approach vocally as seen in "Controlling Crowds". The entire album runs through easily, although there are a few songs that may run their course it doesn't really take away much from this album. For one Controlling Crowds would seem to be their most accessible work to date and secondly it feels generally the same. The impression from this album would seem trip-hop, but knowing their past history and listening more carefully Controlling Crowds is more.

Interestingly enough the different transformations from pop, progressive rock, trip-hop, and even some elements of jazz throughout their career are held in check for the most part. Many Archive fans of Londinium were supremely disappointed with their eventual lineup without Rosko John and Roya Arab, thankfully one of them is back - Rosko John. The flashbacks of Londinium are in full effect while listening to superb tracks such as "Quiet Time", "Razed To The Ground" and "Bastardised Ink". Other genre borders are crossed with the extremely jazzy "Whore", the soulful "Collapse/Collide" and even the poppy, alternative, to progressive rock is scattered throughout the album. The one thing that doesn't really change is Pollard Berrier's vocal appearances are calm and stable. There aren't huge energy bursts as you would expect from a band that draws influence from tons of directions, which helps the album itself develop a lay back feel already. Rosko John and Maria Q bring the best parts of Londinium and Take My Head. What is extremely reassuring about Archive's latest work is the fact they don't go overboard with anything. Each of their previous albums are actually represented with great balance, making Controlling Crowds their best album in 10 years.

What is really charming is the non-existent trip-hop backgrounds of the last 10 years is in full effect here. The ear-tingling electronic atmosphere and beautiful melding of various instruments is in full form. Controlling Crowds has absolutely no problem transitioning from a piano driven song "Danger Visit" to a more traditional trip-hop "Quiet Time" a la Londinium, but of course there's a twist, Berrier also makes an appearance that works to perfection and I must say it just sounds grand. Controlling Crowds may not encapsulate what Archive have been doing with themselves the last decade, but it shows they still have it and are once again recognized for what they did best in the 90's.

Grade: B+


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