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Roll The Dice
Until Silence Tristan Bath , July 3rd, 2014 15:27

Despite having a limited sonic palette, Stockholm duo Roll The Dice have crafted two studio albums worth of rich, monolithic music. Many have cited Tangerine Dream as a clear key influence, and the racing arpeggiated synths on almost every track on the duo's first two albums were indeed often stunningly reminiscent of an updated - and far darker - version of Froese, Franke and co's stadium-filling heyday with Virgin records in the mid-1970s. With Until Silence they shed that skin, and Roll The Dice's full maturation sees an emerging voice all of their own.

The duo comprises Peder Mannerfelt (aka The Subliminal Kid), probably best known for his work producing Fever Ray's synthetic futurist pop, and Malcolm Pardon, who played bass for once-rising Britpoppers Kinky Machine some two decades ago before disappearing to Sweden to pursue a career in composition for TV and film. For Mannerfelt (who's also produced techno under his Subliminal Kid nom de plume), the project's always seemed like something of a noble experiment, reducing his producer's arsenal to a handful of analogue synths (hence the retro timbres). Pardon's career in soundtracking drama has often rendered his contributions somewhat innocuous, more often than not seeming to consist of little more than the gentle tinkering of a piano amidst Mannerfelt's all-encompassing pulsations. For their third outing, purportedly the third volume in a narrative saga (although semblances of narrative were by no means apparent on the first two records of drawn-out meditations), the twosome expand their horizons vastly, roping in a 26-piece orchestral ensemble in the process. It allows them to suddenly find their voice, and with it, more compelling musical drama than the visual source materials Pardon normally deals with.

Second album In Dust had already seen Mannerfelt tone down the Tangerine Dream-esqu approach, receding a little further into the background to formulate rougher environments and denser pads for Pardon's piano to populate, but now the transition goes a step further. Mennerfelt's solo LP from March this year, Lines Describing Circles, saw him sharpen the edges of those arpeggiations to form gristly spider's leg rhythms, while taking a rusty brillo to those slick warm retro pads, leaving hissy glitched background radiation in their place. It sounded like somebody had left that vinyl of Tangerine Dream's Rubycon out in the sun a bit too long - and his atmospherics are all the better for it. Here, that colourful spacebound retrofuturism is exchanged for nightmarish, grim modern brutalism - all sharp edges, course surfaces and grey monoliths. With Mannerfelt's deeper, broader electronic toolkit in hand, the melodrama of Until Silence instantly hits harder than either of its predecessors, leaving Pardon's piano free to lead the charge melodically, and indeed embody a journeying lead character from that imperceptible narrative inside the music.

Opening track, 'Blood In Blood Out' typifies the album's key methodology, with a pair of brooding piano ostinati in each hand. Pardon cycles within a long dark chamber of Mannerfelt's swelling electronics before strings eventually enter some two thirds of the way through, supplementing a grievous meditation until its finale. The following 'Assembly' is a real highlight, taking a similarly repetitive route with piano and kick drum pounding away in a metronomic funeral march that hovers on a single note until the string section join once more, pushing the piano to trace out an ominous melody while Mannerfelt continuously adds textural sound effects, and the strings take a turn for the increasingly cinematic. At times the busy scraping of bows get almost a bit too filmic, hinting at some rabid Hans Zimmer soundtrack, or even tropes from David Arnold and Michael Price childishly serious score for BBC's Sherlock, yet they never stray too far down the road of contrived tinseltown gravitas. 'Coup de Grâce' sees severe string stabs violently slicing against a submersible synth pulsation, while 'Aridity' centres around a gorgeous lamenting piano-and-strings piece, augmented by laptop buzzes and pops reminiscent of Alva Noto in what's perhaps the pair's most musically straightforward, but sonically rich piece to date.

Although not present on every single track, the string arrangements don't just expand the purely physical scope of the music, they also fill the same role as a third band member. Arranger Erik Arvinder is clearly something of an industry man. He's got string arrangement credits for the likes of Lady Gaga, Tinie Tempah and Nicole Scherzinger - which doesn't really reveal anything about how he'd respond in a setting as artistically fluid as one would presume from this Roll The Dice project - but it does perhaps attest to his adaptability. There's nothing as pointillistic as Gil Evans' work, or even as stream-of-consciousness as Robert Kirby's; Arvinder chooses to be lead and not to lead, and the string contributions really, really make the album the success it is.

Like Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason's breathtaking Sólaris score, the marriage of texturally-minded electronic musicians with a classically-trained one's penchant for drama delivers the goods and then some. Until Silence is as brilliant a fusion of electronics and symphonics as those Bedroom Community projects, and yet it's also a far more user-friendly one. Closing track, 'In Deference' - devoid of Arvinder's augmentation as piano and synth battle it out in space - works brilliantly as a gristly bareboned synthetic epilogue in an album of grandeur-infused statements. But the questions lingers: to what extent could these guys dare to roll the dice, and try to do another full-length as a mere duo?

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