Review Summary: When progress trumps perfection.
The moment when The Gift’s Demands erupts from its slow-tick of an intro is both unsettling and exciting. While the latent, near-silent fuzz fights against the scattered percussion and Vennart’s trademark near-rasp, it’s clear that this is more than just a bizarre, hair-raising exercise in atmosphere – it’s also proof that Vennart and Gambler have severed their ties to any audience expectations. Make no mistake: this is a different animal than Oceansize. True to the endearing legacy of that band, though, British Theatre often refuses to tread old ground, drawing far more of its sound from Amnesiac-era Radiohead than anything dominated by an electric guitar. Fans of Vennart and Gambler’s previous outing have little reason to worry, then, because British Theatre’s only fear on Dyed in the Wool Ghost is running through the motions.
Whereas Vennart and Gambler have often relied on rhythmic wizardry and distorted guitars to create the punch in many of their songs, the tracks presented on Dyed are often softer in tone, accompanied by pulsing electronics, gentle chords, and floating soundscapes. The icy, meditative sprawl of As The Leaves Are To The Limbs is a perfect example, moving through sparse washes of synth, fragile acoustic strumming, and circular piano chords before reaching a piercingly melancholic finale. It’s moments like these that show just how much skin Vennart and Gambler have shed since the comparatively lean, full-throttled Self Preserved.
This isn’t to say that the bones of the past have been completely buried, however, as album opener “Defeat Skeletons” strikes an intriguing blend of old and new. Beginning with an understated piano chord leading heavy, muddied bursts of electronic distortion, the track slowly builds into familiar territory as it culminates in a familiar ‘sizean climax. Elsewhere, Helicopters closes the EP on a nostalgic note that hearkens back to the Home & Minor EP’s Monodrones, but far more sophisticated and mature in its execution. Reverberating electronics warp around distant, dreary voices while the percussion haggardly trudges onward, carrying the EP to a barren but enchanting conclusion.
If any criticism can be laid upon Dyed in the Wool Ghosts, it’s that the band’s fearlessness occasionally undermines its songwriting. Both the aforementioned The Gift's Demand and penultimate track Give A Man Enough Rope And He Will Hang Us All start things off remarkably, only to fizzle out into unearned conclusions. The frustration is only exaggerated because these tracks are two of the most abstract songs Dyed has to offer.
Even so, Dyed in the Wool Ghost’s merits are undeniable. In a landscape where progressive bands have become increasingly conservative, British Theatre paves an intriguing, new way forward through the monotonous musical landscape set out before it, and while it doesn't always work, Vennart and Gambler have earned considerable marks for their refusal to play by convention.