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Land, "Night Within"

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cover imageThis is easily one of the most intriguing and enigmatic debuts to surface this year, as two musicians that I am completely unfamiliar with (Daniel Lea and Matthew Waters) have managed to assemble a killer noir jazz ensemble and enlist collaborators as impressive as Ben Frost and David Sylvian.  Although they draw their inspiration from a wide array of disciplines (Gerhard Richter and Paul Auster are influences), the resultant music is extremely narrow in scope (or, more charitably, "focused" and "thematically coherent").   Night Within is essentially all brooding nocturnal atmosphere and texture with little in the way of songcraft, but Land are almost so good at what they do that it does not matter.


I suspect "noir jazz" may not be quite the right term for Land's aesthetic, but Lea and Waters have carved out a very strange and amorphous niche for themselves and that seems to be the closest recognizable signpost.  Saxophones and trumpets are certainly rampant and the pervasive mood is undeniably "noir," but I suspect an actual jazz musician would balk at Land's rhythm section.  On pieces like the slinky Sylvian-sung "Nothing is Happening Everywhere," drummer Paul Cook fits the bill, but other pieces lock into grooves that could be better described as motorik ("Cold Desire") or even quasi-industrial ("Stillman").  More often still, the rhythm section sounds like they are playing at a strip club in a David Lynch movie (which is probably a compliment).  All, of course, nicely evoke the "urban neon dislocation" mood that Lea and Water are after (though the motorik beat is definitely pushing it).

For a debut album, this ensemble nails pretty much every single goddamn detail.  It is almost uncanny: every deep guitar twang and soulful sax lick sounds like it is exactly where it belongs and there is no clutter, bloat, or noodling.  Even the instruments on the periphery (woodwinds, bowed cymbals, etc.) are employed with unwavering good judgment, subtly coloring the proceedings with equal parts menace, melancholy, and sensuousness.  Equally importantly, it all sounds fantastic–the grooves are heavy and visceral and the music perfectly balances between clarity and haziness.  I suspect that is mostly the result of Ben Frost's mixing and "sculpting," but it is such an integral part to the band's sound that it seems likely that Daniel Lea (credited with "sound design")  had some very clear ideas about how Night Within needed to sound beforehand.

Naturally, the big hook for this album is David Sylvian's involvement, but that does Land a disservice.  Sylvian's "Nothing is Happening Everywhere" certainly stands out as one of the album's most memorable pieces, but that is more because it is an actual song than because David's presence elevated the band.  He does fit nicely into the band's aesthetic though.  Still, I suspect Lea and Waters could have similar success with a number of other vocalists...which brings me to Night Within's sole flaw: while these seven pieces are distinctive, beautifully constructed, and amazing sounding, they are all essentially vamps.  This is still a very good album due to its vision and impressive execution, but it essentially feels like a soundtrack without a movie.  As a result, this album falls short of greatness–there is a definite void that is simply not being filled.  Then again, this is only Land's debut, so it seems premature and unfair to criticize them for only being extremely stylish and evocative.



Last Updated on Sunday, 25 October 2015 16:29  


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