Rhythmic pulses and beats from an unwritten space odyssey.
Marconi Union are a Manchester-based trio that blends electronic atmospheric music with a little bit of cinematic ambient and jazz. Their new album ‘Signals’ is a fifty-minute journey through an electronic pulse of sorts. It sounds and feels like a merger of a sci-fi soundtrack and a synth-led apocalypse, all with a driving beat to it.
The big shift between their previous work and ‘Signals’ is that this album is full of rhythms. With their previous album ‘Dead Air’ being almost devoid of percussion, here the album is constantly pushing ahead. On the dramatic trip-hop ‘Looking Through the Ilex’, it is matched with grandiose celestial synth hues and gentle post-rock guitar strums. Opener ‘Cycles Repeat’ is full of synthetic pulses, bleeps and chaotic drum loops. It’s like a signal chain. ‘The Halo’ evokes an Adam Fielding sci-fi movie soundtrack with metallic synth leads and wholesome guitar hooks that relax you and feel dystopian at the same time. It isn’t just the drums that are rhythmic. Often the bass is a pulsating throb of noise or an arpeggiator is busy contorting softly in the background of a track.
All of this comes together best with the albums’ lead single ‘Strata’. Here Marconi Union mix breakbeats with chilled synths, vocal snippets, smooth guitars, warm organs and rich lush piano motifs. It evokes a weightless and stillness to the music whilst absolutely hammering the BPM meters. It’s one of those tracks that you’d easily have on repeat because of how smooth its transitions are and how it constantly evolves. Indeed, the entire album feels ever-evolving from one state to another and it has a strange earworm tendency for you to tune into one melody for 8 bars and then a new one shifts into focus. As every song works like this, you never get bored and the music never gets stale. Not one song follows a verse/chorus structure – they all shapeshift over time instead. The album feels like an onward journey as a result.
Fans of the record album Ninja Tune as well as the emergent new jazz and trip-hop electronica genres will love ‘Signals’. It’s a real grower. On my first listen, I came away thinking ‘that was lovely’ but it didn’t stick vividly in my mind. When I came back for a second listen, I started to really notice how the flow of instruments worked in fluid harmony together. Not one thing pokes an ugly head out anywhere – it’s so well sculptured that it fits into the chillax electronica scene whilst doing something totally different too. Each listen sees me grow a new appreciation for ‘Signals’ and Marconi Union deserve praise to be heaped onto them for creating one of the most unassuming and sonically satisfying albums of 2021. Give it time and it’ll reward you back in spades.
Recommended track: Strata
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