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Engineers - Always Returning

  by Adrian Janes

published: 13 / 9 / 2014

Engineers - Always Returning
Label: KScope
Format: CD


Imaginative and well-constructed fifth album from electronica-influenced shoegazing band, Engineers

The shining keyboard line and crisp drums that burst in on ‘Bless the Painter’ mark the impressive return of Engineers after a four-year absence. But the picture almost immediately shifts perspective through the addition of breathy, near-choral harmony vocals, and again later, with a glowing guitar solo. So from the first it’s apparent that the band’s ambitions far outstrip easy categorisation as electronica. Reportedly recorded with live drums and 1970s processors instead of computers, there is a noticeable warmth throughout to the tone of many of the keyboards. They contrast with the cool, almost dreamlike feel of the vocals, enhanced on tracks like ‘Fight or Flight’ and ‘Smiling Back’, where Mark Peters’ voice blends with that of an unidentified woman in a sound that evokes the smoothness of Prefab Sprout. The skilful mixture of acoustic and electronic instruments is crystallised in the beautiful ‘Rings So True’. As with several tracks, it fades in as if being gently ushered into a room, where a delicate interplay of guitar and keyboard and subtly echoed vocals join in sad recognition: “It rings so true/You’ll never see me/I’ll never meet you.” A coda of guitar and synths create an exquisite conclusion for an exquisite song. The verses of ‘Drive Your Car’ feel like sinking into a well-upholstered seat, Peters’ gentle chant supported by acoustic strum, piano and Ulrich Schnauss’ ambient wash. But this is more than just a sumptuous paean to escapism, it’s a quest for freedom where the danger is “Your destination is just drifting away”. At the end, the song shifts into higher gear with prominent piano and distorted synth, suggesting that the warning is being heeded. With such talent in melody and sonic feel, it’s appropriate that a couple of instrumentals are included. ‘Innsbruck’ is an elaborate tapestry of keyboard textures with a silvery thread of guitar, while ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, based around a constantly ascending and descending keyboard phrase, calls to mind Orbital or Kraftwerk even as its deft piano and guitar simultaneously take the track somewhere else again. A melancholy harmonica at the end completes the overthrow of expectations. Probably the catchiest songs of all are ‘Searched for Answers’ and ‘Million Voices’, both redolent of 80's synth pop but as good as it gets in that style. ‘Searched for Answers’ should be a single, with its ecstatic, menthol-cool harmonies and irresistible marimba-like punchiness from the keyboard. ‘Million Voices’ has a similar sprightly energy, but yet again the band’s inventiveness, using propulsive bass and bursts of harsh synth, makes it memorable in its own right. Concluding on the wistful title track, there’s a sense of hard-won wisdom to the slightly elusive lyrics -as so often, the carefully distorted vocals are somehow both largely clear and yet never quite fully grasped, while the cleverness of the coda of keyboards, harmonica, bass and tom-toms is only apparent when trying to analyse it: simply revelling in the pleasure of the music, it sounds as natural as breathing. ‘Always Returning’ is in one sense is about creatively returning to music’s past - the harmonica that sings the 60s; the George Harrison-style early 70's ballad ‘Smiling Back’, complete with evocative guitar solo; the use of vintage synth tones; understated production effects worthy of a Martin Hannett - yet it ends in being a blend that is perfectly of now. A triumph of a special kind of civil engineering, this is an album of superb construction: the compositions firm and flexible as a suspension bridge, sleek as a car driving across it.

Track Listing:-
1 Bless the Painter
2 Fight or Flight
3 It Rings so True
4 Drive Your Car
5 Innsbruck
6 Searched for Answers
7 Smiling Back
8 A Million Voices
9 Smoke and Mirrors
10 Always Returning

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