There are some folks who just can’t quite put the past behind them, who seem almost unhealthily fascinated and attracted to the trends, ideas, and styles of yesteryear. And while that can often increase one’s chances of embarrassment and foolishness, if nothing else, it can make for some pretty good music.
Such is the case with Daniel Land & The Modern Painters. The Manchester-based six-piece have a decided fixation on the sounds associated with the glory days of 4AD Records. Which means that, while listening to the five songs of the Imagining October EP, you’ll hear plenty of woozy, shimmery guitars that bring to mind the likes of Robin Guthrie (The Cocteau Twins) and Miki Berenyi (Lush).
What you won’t find, however, are similarly dreamy female vocals. Rather, vocal duties are handled by Land, whose hushed voice has been described, in so many words, as a combination of Elizabeth Fraser and Neil Halstead. Now, I wouldn’t go that far, but his vocals befit the music pretty well, especially on the gentle opener “Off Your Face Again,” which just drifts along nicely on never-ending swells of ringing, chiming guitars.
“Between The Acts” ventures a little further into Cocteau territory, recalling even more firmly the halcyon days of Heaven or Las Vegas or Treasure. And while there’s certainly part of me that finds it odd to not hear some angelic siren’s glossolalia weaving its way through the music, that has become something of a cliché. And so it’s actually kind of refreshing to hear a male voice accompany such delicate, ephemeral sounds.
If you spend any time on the group’s MySpace page, you’ll find things like “rainy Saturday evenings” and “winter walks on deserted beaches” listed right alongside their musical influences. Which really make sense while listening to “The Nights Are Falling,” the EP’s most ominous and foreboding track. Land can be heard singing here, but his words are buried beneath nocturnal waves of reverbed guitar and spectral synths — which eventually give way to “September, Look At October.”
A nearly 8-minute track, it closes the EP out with booming drums and more of those oh-so gorgeous ethereal guitars. The band also incorporates some electronic programming in the song’s extended dénouement — which, while modern and technological and all, struck me as almost as gimmicky and clichéd these days as bringing in female vocals simply because you’re writing ethereal, Cocteaus-y songs.
Personally, I find that the more that Land and his bandmates attempt to be throwbacks, and revel in said position, the more refreshing and involving their music becomes. Which is not to say that there isn’t room for improvement.
The band is certainly capable of creating more than just a few lovely soundscapes and atmospherics, but at times, this does mean that they meander a bit much, apparently lost in their own swells and swirls. A good pop hook or two wouldn’t sound at all out of place. And as odd as this seems, given the band’s predilection for shoegaze — one that I share, I might add — I find myself wanting to hear some stronger, more upfront vocals. Bands like The Autumns and Bethany Curve have show time and again that you can, indeed, combine a powerful set of pipes with an equally sizable set of guitar effects, without any adverse effects whatsoever.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that these folks are on the right track, and have no reason whatsoever to be embarassed by their almost slavish devotion to the past. They still come out ahead in my book.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.