Wednesday, September 21, 2011

INVISIBLE ELEPHANT "Anomie or Swimming in a Black Sea"

The first Invisible Elephant album “The Lights Go Out" – see July 2010 - was initially a self-released affair from Blackpool’s Rob Blunden before gaining support (fittingly) from Sonic Reverie. For album number two, Invisible Elephant has moved to a new home (UK/Australian indie Two Hands Music) and also expanded the palette and ambitions for his shoegazey, drifting soundscapes. Whereas the first album was largely instrumental post-rock haziness played on “his assortment of randomly acquired instruments, ranging from frog guiros to pre-school toy drum kits”, on “Anomie or Swimming in a Black Sea” you also find musique concrète interludes, fielding recordings, apocalyptic ambient crawl (‘When It’s All Over’), dark alt-rock grind (‘Black Sound’), and soulful female guest vocalists. The album can sweetly coo (said guest Ryli on ‘Wish) or gently wrap you in a cotton-wool gauziness (‘Everything’) but can also unsettle. The lurching, grating noises of ‘Room 208’ could be a torture-porn soundtrack, although more psychedelic and intriguing that openly horrific, and ‘Black Sound’ is a intense and malevolent trip.

Similar to the swirling patterns of the cover artwork (two swans or a gloved hand? Is that a woman’s face?), the abstract gradually coalesces into semi-recognisable shapes or moods over the course of the album’s substantial 32 minutes, yet retaining an indistinct mystery. Nothing is explicit or obvious. When Blunden takes to the microphone, his treated vocals are either mumbled or buried in murk and drone that it is often difficult to extract clear meaning. The album progresses by shadowy stealth, more like a series of movements than a collection of songs, and it is only in retrospect you realise how much sonic and emotional ground has been covered. And you feel and understand the album really is exploring the “aftermath of heartbreak”.

If it sounds a bit grimly earnest, consider the opening track is called ‘Commercial Appeal’: who says post-rock bedroom artistes lack a sense of self-awareness? And despite earlier hints and suggestions of despair and longing for escape, ‘Do You Believe?’ in the second half of the record is imbued with an uplifting hope, a sense of optimism rising out of gloom. The final ‘Back in the Box’ returns to the nursery school instrumentation of the first album, a gentle music box lullaby bringing a sense of sleepy peace to the album’s conclusion. Not a record of easy, exuberant populism but, like Invisible Elephant’s first label, one of sonic reveries, reflective, thought-provoking and slowly unwinding. And not a return either but a bold/blurry step forward.

“Anomie or Swimming in a Black Sea” is available as a limited handmade hardback library book complete with catalogue card, standard CD or digitally.

Invisible Elephant Anomie or Swimming in a Black Sea [BUY]

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