Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Octopus Cometh....

The Octopus
Release Date: 31/1/2011
Rating: 5/5

So it's finally here. The Octopus. Two hours and five minutes of music. Dear God.

It's pretty difficult to marshall words, such is the scope of this record; it's quite simply massive, both musically and conceptually. Along with the album comes a comic of the story, which ends simply with the words 'the beginning is important in all things', as well as a block of text explaining the concept of the record. By iterating and replacing letters with symbols, gradually the text dissolves into nonsense, and only ends with the credits page. I think it's about entropy, but it could equally be about the evolution of mind; I'm not really sure, but either way it's just the kind of high-minded conceptual art that is a breath of fresh air after years of vapid electro-indie.

The songs themselves are a mixed bag; “well ha, fucking ha!” mocks Sel in 'Golden Ratio', a track beholden to Amp's early period, while 'Fall of the Empire', and the title track are a darker, heavier evolution of their earlier records. Cuts like 'The Emperor' are equally similar to the mood and style of Insider, but the newer, heavier Amplifier definitely predominates. The riffs will be familiar to long-time fans, but the orchestral grandeur and huge harmonies are largely a new phenomenon. In any case, it's very welcome to have sprawling space-rock tracks like 'Interstellar' and the massive closer, 'Forever and More' in the mix, for they add the textural diversity that was perhaps found wanting on Insider compared to their d├ębut.

Between the two discs there's a change in feel too; Disc One, for the most part is the more 'classic' Amplifier sound- 'Planet of Insects' in particular sounds like nothing so much as an Amplifier track.  Most of the songs reflecting pretty much how Amplifier have been sounding live for the last two years; there's even a piano coda after 'White Horses at Sea' by live keyboard player Charlie Barnes to illustrate this fact. It's all just as atmospheric as before, but if anything rather more driving and perhaps a little less psychedelic. There's less of that Gilmour-esque reverb-fuzz-wah combination and I'd hazard that the bass has come up in the mix somewhat, no bad thing.

Disc Two, on the other hand kicks off with the scratchy and strange 'Sick Rose', a marked change from 'Trading Dark Matter on the Stock Exchange', which in its most Soundgarden-y moment (think 'Just Like Suicide') even includes a power-stance ready shred passage, stylishly executed. To suddenly emerge into a drifting web of heavily effected guitar textures is somewhat disorientating. The disc continues this general theme of wrong-footing the listener, and there's even an acoustic guitar taking the lead (shock horror) on 'Oscar Night' (no relation to Oceansize's recent 'Oscar Acceptance Speech'), to my mind the first time since 'Scarecrows' from The Astronaut Dismantles Hal. On 'Bloodtest' a brilliantly nuts drumbeat drills its way into your forehead while stereo guitar nonsense ensues, and though the average length of songs on the second disc is longer than those on the first, to my surprise it passed a lot more effortlessly.

These are of course, after four days of listening, only really first impressions; nevertheless, what emerges clear as day is the fact that this is the best album Amplifier have yet made, and that the listener who cares to (or, indeed has the patience to) untangle its substance will be rewarded. Whatever it is or isn't about, it's fantastic. What's even more amazing about the whole thing is that whilst it was created without any label support, entirely in a DIY manner, it's still so perfectly-formed and fully realised. There's not a note or cymbal crash out of place, and they should be proud of just how accomplished this album is. Absolutely bloody brilliant, there's no two ways about it.

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