Less Trip-Hop, More Acoustic

There have been major pitfalls in a band's career when they change directions after their debut, disembarking the very thing they were known for something entirely different. The Sneaker Pimps' sophomore album Splinter ditched the trippy-exotic tinged female vocals of Kelli Dayton (performs under Kelli Ali now) and move forward with their founding members Chris Corner and Liam Howe, where Corner took the voice of the band. Splinter doesn't entirely shift into unknown territory for a once-tagged trip-hop band, as Archive's sensational debut Londinium changed their sound completely on their 2nd effort, while it may have been a step down for that band - The Sneaker Pimps show promise.

If there's one thing that can be concentrated for any trip-hop band is generally the more successful groups tread within a dark atmosphere, imploring a foothold within the listener with their sound. Howe and Corner's use from Becoming X to Splinter isn't entirely earth-shattering in terms of their movement from their '96 release. Their debut showed the gloomy side of things in songs like "Low Place Like Home" or "Tesko Suicide", but Splinter alters its sound at the forefront. Acoustic instrumentation is key on Splinter, but the electronic needle is still very much in the vein of the music. A clear touchstone for the band's previous work starts predictably and enjoyably on "Superbug", but does it not feel out of place? A tad I'd say, but its electronic reliance is toned down as Corner charges on the track.

You know how you realize that an album may be too long for its own good? Well Splinter has points in its listing to prove my point. "Flowering and Silence" may have a well-developed beat, but clearly the lack of bass is hurting, if not boring me too death as Corner tries to hold out the song on piano keys and tiresome drum cycles. I'm bit overly harsh, but once Splinter sinks its teeth into you with "Half Life" and "Low Five", which use violins, piano, and an ever-increasing dark, yet energetic mood that is pushed through with Corner, it eventually becomes such a low point thinking you're hearing it as a repeat in the middle of the album. While other songs seem to teeter on its electronic influences and the band's new direction with an acoustic guitar in "Splinter" it may seem a bit overdone on this 14-track ride.

Corner's vocal work is exceptional considering this would be his first endeavor in the forefront, something he hasn't put down since taking the helm here. And while I come back to my point of the tiresome formula that may be crawling its way back into the middle of the album, it sticks with the band here and there. "Cute Sushi Lunches" is unfortunately brought down by its previous track. Its constant pauses between musical flow and Corner's brooding voice isn't as good as one would expect. Splinter shows its weakness in that its vocals aren't average or mediocre in any way, but with a mostly solid to excellent instrumentation from acoustics to synthesizers, Corner becomes the problem, it may just feel monotonous for some and unfortunately for most by the end of Splinter you may feel yourself a bit worn-out.

Grade: B-


The Stalker and His Desire

What do you get when you have two juggernaut artists, who not only pump out excellent albums within a year of each other consistently, and are on top of their respected "niche" in ambient decide to work together? The answer is a qualitatively dark album with absence of light with Stalker, an eerily grief-stricken journey within the desires of one man.

The album influence is based off the film with the same name, which was directed by legendary Andrei Tarkovsky. Much like Tarvosky's work, Stalker shifts from illusions of the mind, inner-most desires, and paranoia - something that makes this concept very attractive for ambient listeners.

The menacing noise that spews from downright annoyance to general harmony in "Elemental Trigger" is creepy. Slow, dimmed whispers in your ear move in swirls while the progression of the music pushes the tone ever so slightly, mixing various distractions and illusionary ambience in its way. This is where Rich and Lustmord begin the journey into "The Zone", a forbidden area described in Tarkovsky film where a man can bring his inner-most desires to life if they should reach a magical spot called "The Room". The stretch from reality to idealism is what should be brought to the forefront when discussing this piece of music.

What is clear with this collaboration is their clear reliance on each other's strengths. Lustmord's uncanny magic as a dark ambient conjurer is easily placed within the framework of Stalker, but you realize delving into the album that Rich's rather light, harmonic, free-form influences as a ambient artist have melded with Lustmord's dark menacing and all-time vexing sound that only elevate this album's quality. Stalker may seems like an all-together fine dark ambient album, but its ties with the film give a clear visual perception to what they're trying to accomplish, something that helps immensely as you try to picture where this "anxious man's" perceptions of reality, spiraling paranoia, and lust for what he wants is placed with each track. And it clearly isn't hard to guess.

"Synergistic Perceptions" uses its low tone and scaling background to provide something of a reminder to the listener of ongoing conflicts when many observations are discovered one can handle in any moment. "Synergistic" is simple terms is the whole is greater than the sum of all the individual parts. Could these men have seen something so inconspicuous that he doesn't necessarily understand what it means? Maybe I'm just rambling over bull***, but it seems that more and more listens Stalker receives the more questions I keep asking myself.

A lucid interlacing of these two ambient musicians comes in clear focus on "Delusional Fields", the first half is dominated by the passive meandering darkness and is shifted towards Rich's musical strengths. Essentially it progresses without any hindrance, which is what Stalker is great at - the development of a clear, functional, ever-growing sound, yet aptly moving at a perfect pace.

It could just be all a delusion after all, what makes something real? Is it our own pre-conceived reality that does or can it be shattered by one string of incidents? I'm not sure the mind can truly understand something that complex (for these purposes let's say it does), which would probably would lead to insanity or massive disillusionment. Is your hunger for something so desirable or so far away push you off the edge as it seems to do when the stalker and his companions try to reach "The Room" while journeying through the deserted, desolate Zone? Clearly it does, it did to Tarkovsky and it sure as hell does for Rich and Lustmord.

Grade: A

Marko Polo's Exploration © 2008. Chaotic Soul :: Converted by Randomness