Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How To Reappear Completely

The Invisible - The Invisible (Accidental, 2009)

It seems only appropriate to follow the tribute to Ian Carr with a review of something involving people who have passed through his workshops. As a project, The Invisible follows on from the excellent Jade Fox, who gained a strong following and credible reputation but never delivered an official full-length album. Originally intended as a side project to Jade Fox, the ideas grew substantially until it became a more viable proposition. The Invisible’s line-up includes the towering guitarist Dave Okumu, the versatile bassist Tom Herbert (formerly of Acoustic Ladyland and still a vital presence in Polar Bear) and superb drummer Leo Taylor. All are experienced jazz musicians and whilst they perhaps bring a more adventurous harmonic sensibility to this music as a result, few would venture to call this album jazz. It is, however, one of the most exciting and engaging British pop albums I’ve heard for some time.

That being said, it’s not exactly forward thinking. Listening to it makes me wonder why, when there’s been such a tremendous hullaballoo about synth pop acts like La Roux and Little Boots, excitement surrounding The Invisible’s equally 80s-informed brew has been slower to build. Okumu’s group plunder a much wider array of potentially more fashionable 80s sources. Indeed, pretty much everything that populated Simon Reynolds’ wonderful book ‘Rip It Up and Start Again’ can be heard in ghostly voices here, from Talking Heads to Orange Juice and Scritti Politti. Another major influence, on the introspective lyrics as much as the music, is Robert Smith and The Cure.

What is exciting about The Invisible, then, is not so much their depth or originality, but the effectiveness of their synthesis, the quality of their songs and the thoughtful studio treatment of the material. If there is a more contemporary element to their sound, it lies in the treatment of Okumu’s vocals, which occasionally calls to mind TV on the Radio or Bon Iver. Yet in spite of the transparent influences, there isn’t really another comparable band at work in the UK – there’s something fresh and appealing about The Invisible’s presentation and feeling for the music.

Sometimes the sheer proficient tightness of their groove is electrifying, as on the slinky ‘Jacob and the Angel’. Throughout, Tom Herbert’s basslines are thrillingly danceable, his phrases carefully placed and punctuated to give the music momentum. How many bassists are equally as vital on both upright and fretted electric instruments? Taylor uses the complete drum kit to provide texture and colour, as well as that supreme rhythmic security which elevates The Invisible over lesser rock groups. It all comes together in exciting fashion on ‘Monster’s Waltz’, with its delicious syncopated guitar chords which then unexpectedly give way to an explosive chorus.

Whilst there’s certainly a cerebral quality of the music, it’s the immediacy and drive of a number of the tracks that really makes it click. ‘London Girl’, with a bassline that comes across as a combination of ‘Good Times’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, is completely irresistible. ‘OK’ is the most infectious thing here – with its sugary harmonies and driving pace. In an alternative dimension, these sound like top ten hits.

I’m not entirely convinced by the isolation-by-numbers of some of Okumu’s lyrics. He sounds less self-conscious and more dynamic when simply enthusing about a girl as he does on ‘London Girl’. It’s possible that he’s more interested in sound than he is a songwriter per se – he’s certainly paid considerable attention to the sound of his voice and how it fits within the intricate musical whole. As a result, the clunkier aspects of his lyrics don’t intrude too much on the overall effect (much the same as with The Cure and New Order if we’re honest).

There are few bands who give so much consideration to the execution and delivery of their songs. Every element of this music is precise and well crafted. The result is an album that sounds hypnotic and sensuous – music with real presence and vitality.

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