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Reviews

Engineers
Three Fact Fader Ben Hewitt , July 9th, 2009 11:12

After more than a decade of mind-numbingly monotonous British guitar music, can the faint stirrings of revolution be heard in the air? The triumph of Oasis and their boorish geezer-rock over the smart pop-savvy of Pulp didn't just make them the biggest rock stars of the 90's; it created a stranglehold. Since the cultural exaltation of Britpop, a movement sorely lacking in innovation which largely re-hashed the same old canonical influences into increasingly drearier forms, alternative music from these shores has been choked by the constraints of realism. As the likes of The Enemy and The Twang peddle their paper-thin guitar rock with lyrics scrawled on the back of a Wetherspoons beer mat, it's clear that being 'real' has become a dangerously limiting obsession.

In 2009, change is clearly afoot. Little Boots and La Roux have released debuts packed full of unashamed pop glitz. Patrick Wolf and Bat For Lashes have continued their foray into eccentricity with fine new sprawling releases. The Horrors eschewed traditional garage-rock in favour of the synth-laden adrenaline rush of Primary Colours. And now, Engineers may have just delivered another fatal blow to faux-kitchen sink realism's bloated carcass with Three Fact Fader.

Drawing upon the same shoegaze and krautrock soaked spectrum as Primary Colours but daubed in completely different shades, it's a startlingly lush record, the softer, smoother relative content to lurk in the shadows while it's shinier counterpart hogs the limelight. This is the lazy Sunday afternoon come-down after Saturday night's hedonism. There will be doubters, of course - it's been four years since the release of their self-titled debut, practically a lifetime in the fickle world of pop music, and their resemblance to unemployed supply teachers rather than rock stars hardly does them any favours - but even the staunchest non-believer couldn't fail to be swayed by opening track 'Clean Coloured Wire'. A gorgeous snatch of slithering melody that samples 'Watussi' from Krautrock legends Harmonia, it sets the tone for much of what's to follow: a shimmering slice of shoegaze that's certain to worm its way straight into the hearts of even the most ardent Reverend and the Makers fans. Lyrically, too, it strikes the right chord as Simon Phipp's vulnerable layered vocals consoles his muse “Even time's not playing fair/ Don't pin your hopes on me”. It's a far, and welcome, cry from tales of sweaty nightclubs and fights outside kebab shops.

The wooze continues throughout the album. Whether it's the title track, with its airy ethereal synthesisers which piggyback a ride on a thudding bassline or the swooping 'Crawl From The Wreckage' with its nagging keyboard riff that erupts in a symbol-crashing crescendo. The fantastic 'Hang Your Head' sounds like washed-out My Bloody Valentine with its gloriously hazy yet furious guitars, while 'Song For Andy' apes the same combination of honey-sweet melodies and fuzzy distortion that worked so well for Jesus and Mary Chain. Both sound exhilaratingly fresh.

But even with the shoegaze scraped away, there are still gems to discover. The soft acoustic guitar and chorus of 'International Dirge' resembles a sedated Sonic Youth - albeit with a short, piercing guitar solo that bursts into life halfway through - and displays their knack for creating stonking melodies even when shorn of their trademark shimmer. There's also the slow-burning brilliance of 'Brighter As We Fall', a gentle love song swathed in synthesisers that swells to an epic close. Not that Engineers could be accused of treading the same colourless water that Athlete, Coldplay et al splash around in, as the rushing 'Emergency Room', with its claustrophobic harmony, or extra-terrestrials space rock of closing track 'What Pushed Us Together' would attest to. Only the pedestrian 'Be What You Are', with its self-help lyrics, completely misses the mark, but it's a minor blip on a mostly fantastic album. They say it's the quiet ones you have to watch, but after a four year absence, Engineers are the quiet ones you simply must listen to. Three Fact Fader is certainly one of the finest albums of the year.

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