October 03, 2005

Amp "US"

A decade after the fact, I think it’s safe to say that none of the acts commonly affiliated with the Bristol, England “post-rock” scene came close to becoming household names. Out of all of them, though, Amp seems to be the most obscure of the bunch, despite arguably being both the most pedigreed and the most quintessential. Richard Walker and Dave Pearce played in a band together before splitting to form Amp and Flying Saucer Attack, respectively. Early Amp recordings were done with Matt Elliott of Third Eye Foundation and Matt Jones of Crescent. You can tell that all of Walker’s earlier collaborators left a major imprint on the music he’s doing now. The music on Amp’s fifth album US is perched right at the center of a musical triangle, with Flying Saucer Attack’s ambient guitar noise on one end, Crescent’s murky lo-fi rock on another and Third Eye Foundation’s sinister techno on another.

Creatively named first track “Opening” begins with a drone that sounds like the hum of a tugboat, atop which the pitter-patter of programmed hi-hats ricochets around the stereo spectrum. New instruments are added to the mix, one by one. The programming is augmented by live drumming, the tugboat drone is overtaken by a swell of queasy distorted guitars and a choir of disembodied female voices (courtesy of Karine Charff) moans on top of everything. Because the layering is so slow and subtle, the result ends up being simultaneously cacophonous and soothing. It’s a trick that Amp repeats frequently throughout the record. “Get Here“ is built off a bass-driven groove reminiscent of Snowpony, until droning saxophones and scorching guitars obliterate everything in its path. “You Say” begins with acoustic guitars and hushed crooning, but turns into a white noise blizzard by the four-minute mark.

Amp is also quite fond of sound collage. “Implosion” sounds like what happens when you play a cabaret record and an environmental sound effects record at the same time. Karine croons forlornly (“I don’t know how far our love will go”) on top of lazily played keyboards and guitars, while wind blows and water splashes behind her. Toward the end of the song you can hear a ticking clock slowly edge itself above the instruments. On the similar “Will You, I’m Lost,” the environmental sound is given more prominence; you can hear snippets of conversation and maniacal laughing underneath the guitars and voices. “Think Don’t Think” takes this found sound fetish to an extreme; it consists of nothing but snippets of radio and television static edited and mixed together for three and a half minutes.

Unfortunately, it takes about seven songs for Amp to run out of ideas. Their sound is an intentionally diffuse one, and there aren’t any deviations from it on this album to sustain the average listener’s interest over the course of an hour (the ultra-minimal trip-hop of “Lopsided” being the sole exception). By the time I got to the 11-minute “Endgame,” what was once disorienting had become merely dreary. Unfortunately, you have to sit through another seven-minute song that sounds exactly like it before the album ends. On US, Amp fails to transcend the scene that spawned them; greater stylistic variation (or at least more stringent editing) may enable them to do this on future releases.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.ampbase.net
Label Website: http://www.cargorecords.co.uk/label_zoom.php?labelID=9

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