Brutalist Architecture In The Sun

[Post Democracy EP1 sleeve]"Post Democracy EP1" (EP, 2017) !Recommended!

Brutalist Records

Do We Ever Know The End? was the moving closer to Brutalist Architecture In The Sun's (BAITS) debut album Concrete Pop. It was one of two songs on the album to feature vocalist Cye Thomas (who subsequently became the lead vocalist). With a few reservations I was really impressed with that debut.

This follow-up, four-track EP is better still.

All the promise of Concrete Pop has already been realised on this. And it follows on nicely from Do We Ever Know The End?, with The Dirty Ones.

All the (already) trademark BAITS elements are immediately present. Having seen them live several times since the release of the album, I'm now well-tuned to Cye Thomas' falsetto-like voice. His higher register capabilities not only set the band apart from 90% of other electronic+vocal acts, but provide an excellent counterbalance to Dean Clarke's sumptuously primal analogue and modular synthesis. Listen closely, and there also some brilliantly realised harmonised backing vocals (also by Thomas) in there.

What Now? is perhaps the most immediate song of the four with its title repeated frequently making it instantly memorable. Musically it's built around the kind of walking synth bass line that used to typify so much UK synthpop from the early 1980s (including my own!), but adds sophistication by featuring some simply glorious chord shifting.

Next up is the fantastic Battlements. Thomas' lyrics here (about the emotional trauma we all go through at some point in our lives) are openly heartfelt. They're delivered with a passion and honesty that cuts right through. That would be reward enough, but musically Clarke has surpassed everything he has already achieved.

Battlements is five minutes of absolute beauty. Imagine a lost track from The Human League's The Dignity of Labour EP that was discovered - and found to be one of the best things on it. Clarke is a master of structure. Counterbalancing the pumping bass output from his modular rigs with the most crushingly sublime melodies and sweeping synth pads. Clicking Kraftwerkian percussion coming courtesy of guest contributor Neon.

If you want to know what great electronic music song writing can sound like listen to Battlements. I could listen to this single track on repeat, again and again. In fact, I have. Brutalist Architecture In The Sun's Battlements is easily my favourite song of last year.

Closing the EP is Utopia. A song I first heard live (BAITS frequently debut new material live - another reason to not only go see them, but to go see them regularly). It opens in epic fashion.

I simply cannot get the vision of late afternoon sun passing across monolithic architecture in some found black and white footage when listening to this. Which I suspect might be its intention. Some of the Clarke family's Super 8mm home move footage of growing up in Basildon was included last year in Christopher Ian Smith's brilliant visual poem to the town, in his thoroughly recommended documentary New Town Utopia.

Utopia is a prodigious piece of songwriting and a fitting end to a frankly excellent EP. 9/10 

Rob Dyer (January 2018)

[Concrete Pop sleeve]"Concrete Pop" (Album, 2016) !Recommended!

Brutalist Records

Dean Clarke's Brutalist Architecture In The Sun I discovered online one day. (Turns out he lives only a few miles down the road from me too.) I was suckered in purely by the name. Which, in my book, deserves recognition if only its because not since the late 1970s when Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphries decided to call themselves Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark have I admired the balls of choosing such an overtly provocative and pretentious name. 

The reference to OMD isn't purely an issue of nomenclature though, as beyond that imposing slab of a name lies some decidedly old-school inspired, properly electronic music. And I use the phrase 'electronic' advisedly. As this is more like the minimal proto-electronic music created in Sheffield on analogue only synths, back around the same time that, a few miles west in Liverpool, OMD were emulating their Dusseldorfian heroes Kraftwerk.

The sound is somewhere between the minimal synth style (original and revival) and that late 1970s Sheffield sound. Aspects of either the short-lived bands like like Vice Versa, or the formative years of Cabaret Voltaire, early The Human League, can all be heard in Concrete Pop but it's never imitation. It's either inspired by or simply shares a lot of the same aesthetic. Shimmering opener Concrete Pop sounds like something found on The Human League's 1979 Dignity of Labour 12 EP (of four instrumental tracks). Although there are a few lyrics, this (and most of the album) almost sound like instrumental compositions that have had lyrics and vocals added at a later date. 

Concrete Pop is a slightly awkward title. I appreciate it's probably a touch ironic, as for me, the 'pop' bit underplays the ambition that's clearly behind a lot of the writing here. Having said that, it's clearly a very deliberate choice and admittedly sets out the pop sensibilities of some of the elements in the songwriting, but those are always (wisely) held back from an overtly commercial sound by the uncompromising electronics that dominate the Brutalist sound. So whilst some may find the name pretentious, I find it entirely appropriate. 

So much of the music found on Concrete Pop is, frankly, wonderful in its minimalist simplicity. And I mean simplicity in the most positive sense. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery memorably reminds us: "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away".

Clarke's vocals occasionally threaten to undermine the compositions, which is frustrating when the music beneath is so bloody great. (The whole album could work almost as well in purely instrumental form.) Clarke's not afraid to have the oscillators on his analogue synths slightly out of tune with each other, which I haven't heard since the early 80s, and I love it. Vocals on the other hand, I don't mind being deadpan but I do like them to be in tune, and once too often they drift just a bit too far. 

Fortunately, there are several guest vocalists, including Paul (not the OMD one) Humphries on Love & Science, Meter Bridge's Jill Beaulieu on Saving Face, Cye Thomas on Towers and Do We Ever Know The End? and CountessM (Maren Northway) on Concrete Pop Pt2. All of whom help elevate several tracks. The project would benefit from Clarke conceding most, but definitely not all, of the primary singing duties to those around him*

Nevertheless, I'm always excited by ambition. I'll readily forgive shortcomings if they are counterbalanced by a vision to achieve something bigger and better than the majority of music that's out there. Given that Brutalist Architecture In The Sun have a vision larger than even their name, you'd be foolish not to immerse yourself in their grandiose and thrilling constructions. There are moments of greatness on Concrete Pop that send the soul soaring. 8/10 

Rob Dyer (December 2016)

*Note: Which, since the album was launched in August, has happened, with Cye Thomas joining the band full time as lead vocalist. Result!

See also:
The Human League
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark