Scotland - Full Moon 147 - 09/15/08
Me, But Perfect
My interest in Engine 7 was more than piqued by the excellent tracks available from net label Phantom Channel on their free compilations, Phantom Channel Presents Volume 1 and Vol. 2. However, with Me, But Perfect, Alan McNeil reveals himself to be much more than a one-trick pony.
To my ears, most electronic-ambient-whatever-you-call-it is all about establishing a signature sound and then exploring that signature sound in infinitesimal detail (e.g., Loscil). Only the truly great artists of the genre (e.g., Tim Hecker) can create a diverse and satisfying sound that is distinctively theirs without seeming like they're desperately trying to cover all bases or deliberately take a left turn from an earlier style.
From the tracks on the Phantom Channel compilations I thought I had the Engine 7 sound pinned down: glitchy electro pulses and crackly atmosphere. Me, But Perfect therefore came as something of a surprise. The single "Tempertantrum (11.36am)", throbbing with Aphex-esque beats and tinkling with bright
glockenspiel melodies, immediately dispelled any illusion I had that the album would be wholly downtempo. However, "Tempertantrum" is probably the most frenetic track here - and one of my least favourites.
Opener "Sunrise Catalonia (7.14am)" is beautifully simple and simply beautiful. Metallic chimes are juxtaposed against the smooth throb of upright bass and sighing synth lines, soon joined by the muted exultation of vocal "Ooh yeah"s. It introduces the album perfectly, and sets up the concept of the music unfolding over the course of a day.
The gorgeous title track follows, aching with melancholy, like a sharper-focused Boards Of Canada, but soon mounting to a heart-breaking crescendo of strings. In the second half, "Path of Least Resistance (12.42pm)" eases the album into its 'afternoon' with rimshots and string pads, before "Nichts (2.46pm)" drags the listener into an anxious funk with its crunchy loops and bass ooze. Glorious.
Aside from the enchanting closer "Goodnight I Love You (8.07pm)", the final third has probably the weakest tracks on the album (the late-afternoon lull?), but the sense of narrative movement is undeniable, so even when McNeil introduces some sounds that don't exactly thrill, you know he'll skilfully carry you off somewhere more interesting soon.
Overall this is a very successful and enjoyable album of heartfelt electronica that covers a great deal of engaging musical ground. While some of the songs leave me unimpressed and wondering whether they simply serve the artistic vision of the album as a whole rather than succeeding as tracks in their own right, there's plenty of excellent material here to persuade you to live through this album's day over and over again.
Copyright © 2008 Tim Clarke