Album Review - The Gothenburg Address

From the chilly streets of Edinburgh (that's “Ed-en-borough” for all you non-Scottish folk) comes another fine example of the of-late (or not so late) Scottish tradition of dramatic instrumental rock. The grand piano denouement of “Leaving the last behind” certainly fits in the current mold of Scottish post-rock, and the guitars on “From Med to Lay” invoke the dripping Scottish rain that gives this album it's regional flavour.

Comprising members of ex-Arab Strap, The Zephyrs, and other local bands, the band has clearly grown up in the same cities and towns as bands like Mogwai, De Rosa, Errors, and many others. The sound of the record itself is almost a throw back to 80's style Joy Division/90's style My Bloody Valentine. There's reverb a plenty on the drums, not to mention the guitars, which is par for the course. It's easy to get lost sometimes in the fast picked, echo-y guitars, but the band knows when to kick in the distortion and catch your attention.

“It's Not a Fjord But a Lake” gives a very satisfying kick halfway through, and for once when the band builds up it's not let down again right away. Distorted guitar leads give the song a sense of melody and serve to make it memorable. While the well arpeggiated chords throughout the album give a great texture and sound, they don't always create the memorable melodies that would get stuck in your head like a vocal line would.

Though the band makes good use of dynamics, and quick tempo shifts often serve as verse/chorus arrangements, sometimes the overall sound blurs together and it's difficult to tell one song from the next. The basslines exist to give the guitar chords structure and a foundation, but they never seem to offer any ideas that the drum and guitars aren't all ready saying. Most of the songs seem to start quiet and get loud, which is a great idea, but unfortunately it's been done many, many times over. Starting every song with a loud, in your face riff gets old pretty fast too, but changing it up sometimes would give the songs more memorability.

I often find myself singing along to instrumental bands, coping guitar leads, bass lines, and even drum parts, and overall this album has a hard time sticking in my head, even after several listens. It's often a very different story to review an album when one has been witness to the live show, which I unfortunately have not in this case. It's very, very common in this genre to bring a loud, almost overwhelming, physical presence to the music in a live setting, which can really change the way the music works. Often records are over-compressed and bands that rely on dynamic shifts can be harshly affected by this. From the sounds of the record I can hear what the band is trying to capture, and I imagine in a live setting some of these songs could have a totally different impact.

Album closer “I Am Made of Hearts & Fire,” almost sounds as if it should have been the opener – great lead in guitar then an awesome, harsh punch up – followed by strong bass work and then.... more guitar work and distortion. Around the 5:30 mark we finally hear something that's not immediately identifiable as a guitar. I can only image that this song is the band's closer in a live show, and I have no doubt it would be mind-blowing. After 15 minutes of silence a final soundscape piece leaves the listener with a feeling of foreboding. Instead of hiding at the end as a hidden track, it should be front and center in the album and the sound of the band, a much needed break from the sound of guitar strings, to cleanse the pallet and make the return to guitars that much more appetizing.

The playing on all the songs is tasteful, talented, and well arranged. Twin guitars on songs like “Senior In the Stripper's Light” give great dueling melodies, but often I find they blur back together after great solos like that. The drums are always in the pocket and work great with the bass to support the guitar work – I just wish sometimes they would more often rebel and do something on their own, like the end of “Horizon Take Me Under,” where they kick into a double time punk rock beat and thrash out for a brief but satisfying moment.

Overall I can't find anything bad to say about this album – the production is clean and serves the songs, the mix is simple but effective, the instrument sounds work – but sometimes in instrumental music that's not always enough. There's a reason it's called instrumental music – we want to hear what's expressed on guitars, bass, drums, and with no vocals to support, sometimes you need to make things sound completely unlike the instrument you're using. Sometimes I want my guitar to sound like a trumpet, or an organ, or a computer. The guitars on this album sound like Telecasters and nothing else, generally.

None the less I can't help but reserve judgment on this band until I've had a chance to see them live, which may not happen in the near future, to be sure, but hopefully their success on XFM and Radio 1 will lead to more attention across the pond and elsewhere. I can certainly see this band making a go of it touring outside their home country and being successful. Based on this being a debut album I can only hear things getting even better from here.

The Gothenburg Address – s/t, Released December 2009


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