It’s been going on ten years since Craig Tattersall and Andrew Johnson left Hood – of which they were founding members – and continuing comparisons are as inevitable as they are obvious. Metaphorically unhooded for a while as The Famous Boyfriend, they followed a similar trajectory as the universal flirtations with the rapidly evolving Powerbook/Cubase/Protools environment swept across the ‘nineties music landscape like a mighty wind of change. The very name they chose for themselves seemed an ironic reflection of a kind of self-effacing shoe-shufflingness – I’m with them (well, used to be). And they, too, had their awkward Autechre-meets-The-Field-Mice period. It was equally inevitable, after such a separation, that the earlier attempts at establishing their own voice should involve a bit of stumbling and getting lost.
But all that came to an end with a name-change and a one-off association with the mighty Mogwai. Their collaboration on a couple of tracks on the enormously influential 2001 album Rock Action showed that The Remote Viewer was finally emerging as an evolved entity in its own right. Check out Drum Machine, a 4.8Mb download of a vinyl-only-released outtake from Rock Action on the Mogwai website for a revelatory insight into that period of evolution in progress (and a 24 carat treat into the bargain). Subsequent work has demonstrated unequivocally that whereas The Remote Viewer is of the family Hood (still quite recognisably – and proudly so, I’d have thought) it now sits on a different branch entirely, singing quite different tunes, though no less mellifluously.
A steady one album a year (± 1) since the 1999 début (whose title – Quiet is the New Loud – set out both the stall and the tone for everything that has followed) brings us to this, their third full-length on the City Centre Offices label. As 2004’s You’re Going to Love Our Defeatist Attitude seemed simply a natural continuation of what was begun in 2002’s Here I Go Again On My Own, so Let your Heart Draw A Line seems simply a continuation of Defeatist. It’s as if they’d discovered a seam somewhere out there in the darkest backend of Manchester that they’re just in process of steadily and quietly mining, unconcerned with silly concerns about deadlines or pleasing the fickle masses or (God forbid!) sales – plenty enough Mancy major stool-pigeons doing that – and, employing the eminently sensible principle that if it ain’t broke why fix it, they seem set on continuing to tease out these little annual gems until, at some point, there’ll be a critical accumulation that will coalesce into a mighty opus revealing, retrospectively, the hidden secrets of the universe and the true masonic purposes of the New Musical Express.
Meanwhile, Let Your Heart Draw A Line evokes those moments of wistful regret when the pain of the last lost love is beginning to fade and to be replaced by a craving for jaffa cakes. Whispery vocals and somnambulist instrumental meditations resonate with the inspired, listless harmonics of the weary insomniac. Nothing here above 5dBA, or the sound-level of a duvet-muffled sob.
Three of the album’s outstanding vocal tracks are sung as well as written by long-term collaborator Nicola Hodgkinson of Empress (whose skills Hood also continue to employ on a regular basis): Sometimes You Can’t Decide emerges almost by accident out of the back of a haunting little melody that sounds as though it’s been lifted from a Japanese ice-cream truck; Take Your Lights With You is a sweet two-minute two-liner sung against a Jackson Pollock wall of random buzzes and scratches with only a single keyboard line for company; and I’m Sad Feeling is a simple song, simply and beautifully sung, rendered achingly resonant by the inclusion of a repeated chime that might have dripped off the Boards of Canada palette but feels absolutely right here.
There’s a beguiling effortlessness about The Remote Viewer’s work that might easily be mistaken for torpor. It’s certainly monotonous, in the strictest literal sense, and it would be nice to be able to point to at least one standout track that left you breathless, but woven into this seemingly relaxed and relatively featureless texture is an artful thread of almost throwaway brilliance: repeated listening continually discovers ear-cocking surprises that, I swear, just weren’t there the last time. Musician as magician. And, like all the best showmen, they leave you hanging on a final track – How Did You Both Look Me In The Eye? – that stops just at the point when you’re leaning forward to grasp the moment of final revelation. It’s almost as bad as getting the VCR timer wrong and losing the last five minutes of an episode of Alias – another of those lifting-off-the-stylus moments that’s characterized the long pauses between each of The Remote Viewer’s last three albums. Music as soap. So roll credits, and ff another year or so to that uniquely wonderful sound of the needle biting the groove in the vinyl again. Metaphorically, of course.