Perhaps i am not the best person to eview this
album. All you need to do is read this site and you should realize
that i am a big Robin Guthrie fan, and this is his first solo
After giving it a few listens, i admit to being somewhat underwhelmed.
This is a case of one's expectations actually harming an experience.
You see, i listen to a fair amount of ambient guitar music.
I really like the genre, as a sampling of reviews on this site
will reveal (see especially reviews of
Lanterna, Portal, and
Yellow6, but more are
to come, i promise!). When you think about, Mr. Guthrie is,
in many ways, the Grandfather of Ambient Guitar Music. The entire
genre owes a huge debt to the music he played during the 80's
in Cocteau Twins, although he himself has not released an ambient
guitar album until now.
So, with that in mind, what new revelations would Mr. Guthrie
have for this smallish genre that is one of his descendents?
What new and innovative things would he do here? I expected,
i suppose, for this album to revolutionize the genre. In some
small way i expected that in the future i could discuss "pre-Imperial
vs. post-Imperial ambient guitar music". So it
was with much expectation that i got this album and put it in
the CD player. I sat back, expecting to be wowed, to be blown
away with innovation.
And i wasn't. The music on Imperial is very similar
to the recent work of Yellow6,
Aarktica. Not that this is bad by any means, it is just, well,
not the stunning revelation that i expected. But that is my
fault and not Guthrie's.
Really -- this is a very pleasant, quite solid, ambient guitar
disc. It shows the beauty that one human with a guitar and a
whole mess of pedals can create. Despite my initial dissapointment,
i kept listening to it. I would think, on one level, "Man, this
is the same old stuff" then on another level i would think,
"I really like the use of tremolo here on Into Stressa."
So i was rather ambivalent about Imperial for
a quite some time, and i have written three previous drafts
of this review that have been scrapped. How could i write about
this? What should i think about it? Is it good, and my disappointment
leads me to underrate it, or is it really bad and my admiration
for Guthrie colors my judgement?
What to do? Well, fortunately no Minion is an island, so i
invited others over to The PostLibyan Cave and put Imperial
on as we sat around and chatted. The overall verdict was positive.
No one fell asleep and no one complained. A few people even
commented on how they liked the guitarwork, and asked who the
So, several Minions agree: Imperial is a worthwhile
album. Whew, i am glad to know that it's not just me. At first
i was very expectant, then disappointed, then i grew to like
the album, and i wasn't sure what part of that process was honest
assessment and what part was unconscious reaction. Well, now
All that said, let's consider the acutal music, shall we?
The disc starts out with the title track, Imperial,
which builds painfully slowly out of guitar with the faintest
hit of keyboards in the background for about 4 aching minutes.
Then a drum beat kicks in, and the song becomes much livelier.
It is a good intro to the album.
The next track, Freefall is a guitar and piano affair
that is reminscent of the album The Moon and The Melodies
that the Cocteau's did with Harold Budd. It has a similar hazy,
wandering feel, and builds slowly.
Thunderbird Road is up next. From the title one would
expect this to be a rocker, somehow. And yet, this is the most
minimal song on the album. It is constructed out of rumbling
echoing chords, and honestly reminds me of the work of Rothko
(who oddly enough have released an EP
on Bella Union, the label Guthrie co-owns with fellow ex-Cocteau
Twin Simon Raymonde). This is a decent and quite delicate tune,
but the ending is particularly nice, where Guthrie layers in
waves of overdrive, bringing the sound to a climactic peak,
and then the whole thing just fades out.
The next track, Tera is more electronic than the rest
of the album. It starts with a wavering keyboard loop and a
staticky beat. Guthrie strums over this, his guitar played through
gobs of tremolo. The overall effect is lovely, and i rather
like this tune.
Next, Crossing The Line starts with a slow, minimal
intro that is very similar to Thunderbird Road, but the
song gets busier from there. A tinkling, tense keyboard riff
comes in to provide a monotonous rhythm, and string hits wander
through periodically. Guthrie's guitar is loud, with long distorted
notes. This is an odd song, more psychedelic than ambient.
Into Stressa is next, and features loads of tremolo
on the guitar. In fact, this tune reminds me a good deal of
Guthrie's work in Violet
Indiana. This song is a little slower than Violet Indiana
tunes tend to be, and in a way it suffers for the lack of Siobhan
DeMare's voice. I actually think this would have made a better
Violet Indiana tune than it makes an instrumental, but still,
it's not bad.
Next is Music For Labor which again features wavering
keyboards. Guthrie's guitar here is more echoed and less tremoloed,
and the song really reminds me of mid 80's Cocteau Twins. Good
The next track, Falling From Grace, is rather different.
The guitarwork here is very light and distorted in an entirely
different way. I am not sure what he is doing here, but i can
tell that there are several guitar layers, each playing slightly
different parts. This is a really beautiful piece. The layers
play off of each other wonderfully.
This fades into the prominant piano of Elemental, which
is the most "normal" song on the album in the sense that it
is the least ambient. Piano and guitar combine with layers of
real drumming to create an almost rocking tune.
However, the album's closer, Drift is pure guitar ambience,
adequately described by its title.
So there you go, 10 songs from Guthrie. I like it, despite
my intial disappointment, and other Minions who are not such
extreme Guthrie fans enjoyed this album as well. What more recommendation
do you need?