SIAN ALICE GROUP – Troubled, Shaken, Etc. (Beautiful Happiness)

With last year’s debut ‘59:59’ Sian Alice Group delivered something of a mishmash of themes and styles, interspersed with some pleasant if somewhat throwaway instrumentals. For this release they have consolidated that approach, and so you have indie pop songs like ‘Love That Moves The Sun’ followed by the ambient experimentation of ‘Airlock’. ‘Through Air Over Water’ makes do with just piano and the occasional guitar chord over which Sian Ahern intones the mournful lyrics, and the mood is captured perfectly. ‘Close To The Ground’ welds all of these elements together into one behemoth of a song. Starting out with some ambient synth lines before the drums come in with a metronomic beat, the track develops as Sian adds her vocal, and the whole thing just builds throughout its seven plus minutes. ‘Grown Again, Repeat’ slows the pace right down, almost to the point of sounding like Low, but the piano is put to good use by filling the gaps nicely rather than just playing sombre chords, and so the song is nowhere near as dreary as it could have been. The title track is as minimal as the band get, with just Sian’s voice, the odd guitar twang, and a howling wind, but it evokes an atmosphere which is obviously what the band were aiming for. ‘First Song – Angelina’ starts off like another of their experimental instrumentals, with a distinct Philip Glass feel to the piano intro, before Sian’s vocals make a fleeting appearance, and then the piano forges on to the end of the track. ‘Vanishing’ really is one of their more experimental pieces, with a repetitive motif underpinning the rhythm, over which the piano and vocal weave in and out. ‘Longstrakt’ is a short interlude showing that band can master Krautrock if they so want, all repetitive loops and bleeping synths, before ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’ brings a jazzy pop feel to the album. ‘The Low Lights’ is about as commercial as the band get, but that does not necessarily mean that you can sing along with it – just that the structure of the song is the most conventional, and ‘Salt Water’ winds things down with another atmospheric slowie which gradually builds up to end in a maelstrom of noise. I can’t say that this album is an easy listen, and the disparate styles on offer can take a bit of getting used to, but it is worth persevering as the end result is a thought-provoking and innovative album.
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