It is also incredibly rare for me to bother writing a review on a band so reliant on the sax. I just don't get the instrument. It does not sit right with me. For some reason I am completely 'saxist' inasmuch that I have formed malevolent stereotypes of sax players and just the whole atmosphere surrounding the instrument.
This attitudinal dysfunction imagines of it being played in smoky clubs situated in London's Soho, or any other countries famed den of inequity. High stakes Poker is played in one corner of the club and an altogether different type of pok(h)er occurs behind closed doors in another corner. Of course the resident saxophone player himself licks his lips a little bit too suggestively to fondle notes from the instrument and stares just that little bit too long at the significant others of club-goers irrespective of their sex. In short the sax, as ridiculous as it seems, is all that little bit pervert.
However on this release, especially in the first half of the album, it is used an altogether brilliant replacement to the guitar, to create a mood enhancement that is definitive of nature. The nearest reference point I can find from the long since forgotten post-punk corners of my mind, would be the very early 80's post-punk band Essential Logic.
However this album is infinitely better than that reference point mainly because the album is driven home by pounded post-punk drums and a vocal delivery that has a fascinating mix of the smooth confident crowing of Bryan Ferry and the stuttering, almost pregnant pause delivery of mid 80's David Bowie. Somehow it just compliments the sax and removes its 'pervert' by superbly resurrecting a sound that belongs to another era and adding modern flourishes. Probably the most typical examples of the bands signature sound would be in the superb opener, Time is a River (below).
In the second half of the album, the saxophone has to share the attention with the guitar as post-punk meets jangle-pop and the albums true stand-outs are revealed. Spirit Shadow has an introduction that is all things Fire Engines brilliantly engulfing the track, whilst the jangled guitar and saxophone interplay of Creatures and act as aperitif for the true stand-out, the closing Dark Age (see below) which has a most beautiful dominant guitar riff that is post-punk Real Estate in equal measures. Eventually the tracks drifts off into true post-punk stylistics driven by the sort of insistent drums and chunky bass riffs that symbolize the genre, but the 'pretty' of what has gone before is what adds the emphasis to the eventual angst of the track.
In general, this album may not be the most immediately accessible. It also more likely to appeal to post-punk rather than jangle-pop fans. However, stick with it past the the first few initial listens and it is one of those releases that the word 'grower' was invented for.
Eventually it is likely to grow on you so much that Dark Age becomes that ear-worm that you cannot (and do not really want to) get rid of. You might even be inclined to start seeking out seedy clubs in the hope of a saxophonic love tryst !
With a new release likely to be out in the summer, be sure to get this as a primer !