For many years, the middle ground between ‘outer edge’ electronica performers such as Autechre, the Raster-Noton gang and their ilk, and club-friendly dance music has been a sagging mire of mediocrity. An area that was once filled with extremely popular, although not necessarily populist, acts from the Orb to Orbital, Leftfield to Way Out West, became anachronistic and redundant – something not helped by the rush to employ singers at every turn in a doomed effort to compete with indie bands. The result is all too clear from recent efforts by the likes of Spooky and Moby – bland pop with a vaguely electronic setting that pleases no one. But there has been a marked resurgence in the last couple of years, with acts combining the experimentalism of some of the cutting edge acts with a keen ear for melody. Taking elements of neo-classical music and the more expansive and left-field ‘indie’ groups, the new acts craft a kind of all-encompassing, genre-busting sound that is neither rock nor electronica, but somewhere in between. Leaning towards the former are more high profile artists like M83 and Ulrich Schnauss, whereas the reinvigorated Black Dog are on the more traditional IDM side of things. Engine7 can be found somewhere in the middle of this (arbitrary and overly-simplified) line.
I came across Alan McNeill, aka Engine7, only recently via his contributions to the two Phantom Channel compilations. Both were excellent, and the arrival of Me, But Perfect proves that they weren’t just isolated flashes of brilliance. The album is a 50 minute trip through an eclectic mixture of electronica and instrumental rock. A lazy reference point would be someone like Italian outfit Port-Royal, but Me, But Perfect is much less inclined to epic narrative. Although, in a sense, it is an epic narrative in that it is structured in the form of the events of a single day, with each of the eleven tracks assigned a specific time between sunrise and evening.
There is a definite summer feel to the album. The opener, and only vocal track, “Sunrise, Catalonia” would fit perfectly on one of the near legendary Café Del Mar pre-club Ibiza compilations of the mid nineties. The title track is a fantastic meld of cracked beats, soaring strings, fuzzy guitars and music-box melody. The stunning “Path of Least Resistance” is lazy, sweeping and sun-drenched. There are contrasting, darker hues, too. “Tempertantrum”, with its shades of prime period Orbital, ups the tempo considerably, while the sombre, glitchy beats of “Nichts” and the fuzz-drone feedback-rich “Glitches” strike a marked contrast to the generally sunny air of the album.
McNeill seldom puts a foot wrong on Me, But Perfect, but the 10.08am to 2.46pm period is especially good.
1. Sunrise, Catalonia (7:14am) 5:13
2. Me, But Perfect (7:48am) 7:02
3. Obsessive/Compulsive (9:12am) 2:38
4. Glitches (10:08am) 2:18
5. Tempertantrum (11:36am) 4:59
6. Path of Least Resistance (12:42pm) 5:38
7. Nichts (2:46pm) 5:55
8. A Conversation (4:21pm) 4:48
9. The Air Sings (7:08pm) 0:48
10. Hive Mind (7:21pm) 6:49
11. Goodnight, I Love You (8:07pm) 3:18