SIAN ALICE GROUP – 59.59 (Bella Union)

Sian Alice Group are an American band who have only been around for a couple of years, and ’59.59’ (titled because their label boss begged them not to make the album longer than an hour, and so they shaved one second off the running time) is their debut album from earlier this year. It wasn’t reviewed in the music press, so the first I heard of them was checking out their Myspace page after reading an Radar feature in NME, and once again they have picked a winner. The band are a six-piece, and it is Sian Alice Ahern’s vocals which strike you first, having an ethereal quality on songs like ‘As The Morning Light’ and yet rocking out on ‘Way Down To Heaven’. The music is stripped down to the bare basics, almost post-rock in places, with ‘…Heaven’ for instance being just a two chord riff, but it really works. Other songs have a more traditional structure, with ‘Contours’ chugging along with a motoric beat, while ‘When…’ stretches out for over seven minutes, slowly building up until Sian’s vocals appear, and then coasting down the other side. A Philip Glass-like piano motif runs through ‘Days Of Grace III’, before – ironically – ‘Sleep’ crashes in to wake us up. ‘Murder’ is a mid-paced ballad, enlivened by some interesting guitar effects, and ‘Heartless’ just might be the most haunting track on here, with Sian’s vocal one of her most emotional. Interspersed throughout the album are some short instrumental interludes, making for a record of many different styles and feelings. It is good to hear a band making music that it is hard to categorise, and with this album Sian Alice Group have produced something that is entirely their own.