Okay, so no one else has heard of them, ever. Never mind, another review!
Released 2001 on Chemikal Underground. Re-released on Matador Records with bonus tracks.
Okay, Aereogramme are a band from Glasgow (that's in Scotland, for all your uneducated foreigners), and they play post-rock type music. Any fans of that sort of thing are probably playing with one of two names in their mind right now - Mogwai or Belle and Sebastian. Maybe even both, and their being on the same label as them will do little to diminish this idea. Having heard a grand total of three songs by those two bands put together, I can't really comment, but most of the critics I've heard talk about Aereogramme mention them as reference points, often along with the Smashing Pumpkins or Radiohead.
Aereogramme are (or were, anyway):
Callum Davidson (piano, track 1), Simon Neil (screaming, track 5), Alison Brown and Peter Kemp (strings, track 6) also made appearances.
There is a second version, released after I bought my copy, with 3 additional tracks from an EP/demo they released prior to the album. But I don't have that, so 10 tracks is what you're getting.
1 - The Question is Complete
The album starts off with some electronically altered guitar sounds and irregular drumming - I suppose you could call it math-rock - before being joined by some big, loud, rhythmic guitar. This then, equally unexpectedly, drops off into the same rhythm played much more quietly, and is joined by the vocals, which are gentle and soft (think any of the bands mentioned above, and maybe even some of Bjork's lower pitch moments). This quiet-loud structure is repeated several times throughout the song, always with slightly off-key piano hiding in the background, and ends with some frantic, sometimes random, drumming, again with distortion. It's a good opener, though far from one of the best moments on the album
2 - Post-tour, Pre-Judgement
In my opinion, the album's essential song. Starts with echoing (maybe dubbed) drums, before adding a quiet but really beautiful guitar line. Then we get the vocals again; the vocalist, Craig, has high, soft, almost child-like vocals for most of the album, and I love them especially on this track. This ascends into another huge wall of guitar sound (at a faster pace than the quiet part), over which he still sings the line "In a way, without hate, I wouldn't be what I am". This whole bit then repeats itself again, minus only the drumming on its own, but rather than dipping into another quiet bit, the tune catches itself and maintains it's intensity for a bridge section with a soaring guitar spikes after each line. The song ends unexpectedly, as, after a quiet part with really nice melodies, and an almost spoken word "fuc
k the devil" section, Craig launches into one of the albums three of four fits of shouting and screaming. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it's doesn't, but here it most definitely does.
3 - Egypt
After the screaming end of Post-tour..
, Aereogramme head in directly the opposite direction. After about 50 seconds of electronic tone, simple, low key piano melody plays througout this song. The whole track has a muted, low-fi sound to it, on the drums, the mournful vocals, and the piano. Very minimalist and relaxing, with the exception of what sounds like a plane taking off in the background at one point.
4 - Hatred
Starts with a grand-sounding, yet tinkly and sparse, piano introduction, which flares up occasionally throughout, and which I really like. The piano is backed by relazing, soft guitar, and the occasional drum or electronic beat just add to the atmosphere. I think that's what this song is about - atmosphere, and Craig's vocals. It's a slow burning track, the peaks being whenever his vocals reach a climax. If you're susceptible to these things called "emotions", this'll play with them.
5 - Zionist Timing
This was the single they released, I think. It's probably the most traditional of the songs on here, for the first half, in that the quiet-loud structure is still used, but the loud is less intense and you actually see it coming (as opposed to the initial shock in, for example, Post-tour..
), and the vocals are catchier. The first half is decent, and the song is split in half by a bout of screaming from Simon Neil (no, I don't know who he is). After this, the second half sounds like a completely different track. Maybe it's to calm the record down from the relatively high energy and tempo of the rest of the song, but there are no more vocals, and it's slow, and calming. Some of the guitar, with effects, reminds me of the music played by the band Asia Argento goes to see in Scarlet Diva, but I doubt anyone else has seen that film.
6 - Sunday 3:52
As if their versatility isn't evidenced sufficiently by the first 5 tracks, Aereogramme choose track number six to use strings. I'm not sure what strings they are; there aren't many of them, but I'm pretty sure it's mainly cello, with maybe a violin coming in later on (though they might just be playing the cello in a higher tone). Pretty much the whole track is based around beautiful slow strings, a lighly picked acoustic guitar and Craig's vocals, with the occasional drum beat in the background. Up there with Post-tour..
7 - Shouting for Joey
As it's name suggests, this track has little in the way of the child-like vocals prevalent for most of the album. It's probably the furthest away from post-rock, and the closest to post-hardcore, that they get. It starts with a focused version of the song's main riff, which reminds me horribly of nu-metal bands like Trapt. The song proper is introduced by a scream from Craig, and the vocals never drop below at least a shout for the first half of the song. Around midway, a noise which reminds me of a broken windscreen wiper struggling to still wipe repeats itself every few seconds, before a piano comes in to bring the energy of the song down. It reminds me of DJ Shadow's piano on Building Steam With a Grain of Salt
, for some reason.
3/5 (rescued from 2.5 or even 2/5 by the outro)
8 - A Meaningful Existence
This again uses the quiet-loud dynamic of most of the album, but less so than the opening tracks. After the very nice piano intro, which resurfaces in the middle quiet section, (subdued, as opposed to the grandeur of Hatred
, but not quite so subdued as the lurking in the opening track), there are quiet sections, followed by louder sections; but the louder sections are less like the wave of guitar that showed earlier, instead being lo-fi fuzzy guitar, filling the soundscape by atmosphere and presence than volume. This is often considered the best song on the album, though not by me.
9 - Descending
This whole track is a picked acoustic guitar and Craig's vocals, and one of the few tracks which seem to concentrate on his vocals. They are a great part of the music for most of the album, but they're never usually the exclusive focal point. There's nothing can be said about the majority of this song without actually hearing it first, so I won't try. It ends with Craig's last line repeating, broken-record style, while noise wells in the background. It all cuts out suddenly and echoes to a finish.
10 - Will You Still Find Me"
This is a very relaxed end to the album. The vocals are more sparse than usual, and tend to revolve around the question posed in the title. The music mostly follows the same pattern in repetition, with occasional variations, which I like. Nothing more to say, it'd be like reviewing Sigur Ros. Only less Icelandic.
So, I really like this album. Musically, there's plenty of variety, from dashes of strings and piano, quiet and slow passages to hard and loud, screaming vocals and soft. The guitars can get loud and hard, but never really metallic. One problem, not really with the band, but with people who listen to their area of music, is that they often describe the screaming vocals as being "up there with the best of death metal", when to be fair, they're really not. They stretch into post-hardcore and emo style, but never death metal. Luckily, the harsh vocals aren't used all that much on the album (three songs), as I don't think they'd work if they appeared too often.
However, if you're willing to look past just the music, it's a very personal album. Vocalist Craig isn't exactly a tortured soul, but he projects frailty and confusion about his place in the world, which come through both in his wonderful vocals and the often questioning lyrics. The lyrics are never a huge part of the album, and they're nothing fantastic or groundbreaking, they just work incredibly well for what he expresses.
Overall, a strong 4/5. Strong meaning it would be an 8.5 or 9/10.