Craig Christo, who records under the Sans Arc moniker, is close. Real close. An admitted fan of all things shoegazery, Christo tries his best to capture the magic and sound of bands ranging from Slowdive and Chapterhouse, to more modern acts like Mogwai and Sigur Rós. Being a big fan of those bands myself, I think I have a pretty good idea of what Christo is trying to accomplish with his music. But the overall feel I get from Sans Arc’s music is that of a person so indebted to their influences that it’s almost a hindrance.
First of all, let me just say that Christo does write some truly beautiful music. However, it’s just not quite the immersive sound that he’s striving for, at least, not all of the time. There are several areas where Sans Arc’s sound stumbles, or just needs a bit more refinement.
While dreampop bands were certainly never known for their strong vocals, I personally find it hard to imagine Slowdive without Neil Halstead’s lazy voice. However, the vocals are perhaps the weakest part of Sans Arc’s sound, either because they’re buried way to low in the mix (the whole “vocals as another instrument” logic might be taken a bit too seriously here), or so lethargic they’re practically unnoticeable. Conversely, Christo does use vocals to great effect when they appear as background elements, such as the ghostly wails that haunt “Gamma Rays” and “Not Our Time.”
Christo also attempts the loud/soft dynamic on tracks like “Ocean Grey” and “Space Theme,” but who isn’t these days? In Sans Arc’s case, it never quite has the impact that he’s probably striving for. Perhaps because the wall of fuzz tends to muddy things rather than give the song any additional “oomph,” or because the transitions always feel rather obvious, not to mention a bit on the rough side. Whatever the case, such dynamics are not really where Sans Arc’s strengths lie.
Now, that might have changed, as two more members have joined the band since this disc was recorded. But listening to A Remote View, I often found myself more intrigued by the its quieter, subtler moments, as opposed to those times when Christo is trying to overwhelm the listener. I wish this aspect had been explored more completely. The mellower moments are where Sans Arc’s sound really seems to come together, especially when the stilted drum programming is eschewed for more IDM-esque elements akin to those Christo employs in his electronic project Tundra.
Specifically, I’m thinking of the bridge in “Building A Desert,” when the drums and vocals cut out and Christo’s guitar just pools there like some distant mirage or heat-induced hallucination, and the opening moments of “Space Theme,” where a somber, Godspeed-esque melody rings out against a finely woven backdrop of shimmering, bejeweled drones. At moments like these, Christo doesn’t even sound like he’s trying. Rather, he’s just letting the sound flow from his instruments, and his influences, though still present, don’t weigh nearly so heavily.