October 22, 2022

Marconi Union – Distance (All Saints Records)

They make for snappy PR copy, but they’re starting to sound a bit tiresome and lame, those criticspeak lines that go something like “sounds like Recuper8 meets Odin’s Penis mastered in the Ice House and produced by the legendary Mr Legandery.” I mean, you can see where it’s coming from – we all crave reference – but I for one (and partly because – hands up – I’ve been there done that and feel a bit guilty about the t-shirts) am beginning to wonder if it serves the me me look at me drive of the writer rather more than the matter at hand. Or, more precisely, at ear.

Marconi Union, for instance, have clearly supped at the same table (or in the same restaurant district) as such luminaries of the ambient electronic stable as Labradford, Tortoise, Boards of Canada, and Eno, but, equally, they must have been flirting with Air, Sigur Rós, Fennesz, Pink Floyd, and Sade, even, to end up with such a succulent and eclectic palette. Crucially, however, these references are only one element in a sonic architecture that owes as much to the arts of dreaming, drifting, and splashing about in puddles as to the techniques of keyboards, bass guitar, glitch-control and ProTools.

Distance is the kind of music you find floating in your head when you’ve been dozing off on a night-train trip and woken to the slow-drifting lights of an unknown city doing their mesmerising parallax thing in your hypnagogic vision. Seven cities, indeed, as each of these seven six- to seven-minute tracks refers melodically to the other six, however indirectly, in the same way as the no smoking logo etched peripherally in the train window occurs in the same frame at each different and differently disorientating moment of awakening.

Neither emotional nor emotionless, it supports a mood entirely composed of anticipation, curiosity, and, to some extent, surrender to that state of hapless introspection that characterises the more enjoyable (ie least Virgin Trains) railway journeys. It comes with a strain of yearning and regret that only the exceptionally agreeable companionship of such as Scarlett Johansson might assuage, but really it’s a solo journey, as are all the true journeys, one that travels as far into yourself as you care to go. In this case, it even comes with an end-of-the line metaphor-free sax moment.

Like the Masterbuilder of Chartres cathedral, Marconi Union is a nameless and faceless wonder. Word has it there are two of them, that one of them’s called Richard, and that they hang out in Manchester, but for all I know they’re either a gang of moonlighting telephone engineers from Tokyo or a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl from Smolensk.

Did I mention cool?


As cool as it gets.