Julian Fane Special Forces

[Planet-Mu; 2004]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: mood music, mellow electronica
Others: Manitoba, M83, Marz

At first listen, Special Forces sounds like Sigur Ros stepping out of the ether for some bracing piano-driven techno pop. Julian sings like Jonsi and on "Freezing in Haunted Water" he sounds a lot like the high Thom Yorke vocal part in "I Will." This is derivativeness, sure enough, but it's the sort that's tempered with a sonic innovation that wears its Kid A influences in a rolled-up sleeve.

It seems to me that Kid A should've been more influential. And I'm not talking about the mere merging of rock and electronica, but the focal shift from verse-chorus-verse to something more tentative and textural. People put down the last Sigur Ros album, stating that it was "boring." I can't help but gasp at that notion. Perhaps these people never listened to the second ( ) track on their headphones while in a snowstorm. This is insulated, sensationally mood altering tonal soundings orchestrated with such intricate grace and tenderness that it's almost impossible for me not to be moved by it.

Special Forces is no knock-off. There is a distinctive sort of melding of its influences into something that sends off familiar bells, but fills an entirely different landscape. If ( ) is vast, semi-tragic winter wonder, then this record is the gradual thaw. Fane's trilling beat infrastructures chip away at vast ice floes, both nestling into and breaking away from a deeply numbing frost. There's a great effect in the background of the Vangelis-inflected "The Birthday Boys" that sounds like the slow-motion pep rally at the end of Heathers. It's little sonic details like this that make Fane stand apart from his peers and mentors. The melodies are definitely of the same melancholic tone as Sigur Ros, but I wouldn't be inclined to call it depressing. If it does lend itself to depression, it's the exquisitely crystalline sort that Xiu Xiu can lend itself to (there's actually a vague Xiu Xiu type of vibe on the trilling "Darknet").

So, while Julian Fane might not be breaking too much new ground with this LP, he's expanding on a landscape that is the ideal for people who don't dread the coming winter, but instead feel sort of romantic about it. People who call music like this depressing must just have really limited sonic palettes. To me, it contains great mystery and intrigue, with a sort of moody bent that doesn't overtake you, but edges you into a comfortable precipice of isolation. This is music probably best appreciated when you're by yourself, and it's just what the doctor ordered for those anticipating new material from Radiohead or Sigur Ros.

1. Disaster Location
2. Safety Man
3. Freezing in Haunted Water
4. Sea Island
5. Stasis
6. Darknet
7. Book Repository
8. The Birthday Boys
9. Taoist Blockade
10. Coronation
11. In Space
12. Exit New Year

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