Manchester electronic duo Richard Talbot and Jamie Crossley are media-shy, preferring to let their music speak for itself. This determined stance might itself have been the starting point for A Lost Connection, the group’s third album. Originally released as a digital download in 2008 and now being issued on CD for the first time, it reflects ideas of disconnection, withdrawal and introspection.
Marconi Union are not a group for radical reinvention – their 2009 album Tokyo presents similar ideas viewed through contemporary urban life in Japan – but they are constantly developing and improving their approach. Pensive but also sensitive and quietly dazzling, A Lost Connection is assured and graceful.
Easy comparisons could be made with the likes of Boards Of Canada, or perhaps more accurately with Zero 7, but Marconi Union’s ambient music has a distinctive and compelling atmosphere of its own. A Lost Connection is geographical in scope – it seems to be a soundtrack for anomalous, desolate parts of the urban landscape, bringing to mind the isolated industrial sites around London’s M25, or that hide behind the regenerated parts of Docklands. The song titles (Hinterland, Debris) add to a sense of alienation or even abandonment.
Talbot and Crossley allow time and space for their ideas to rise gradually from a murky fog. Whilst a similar degree of patience is required from the listener, this and careful attention to detail are amply rewarded. Musical statements that initially seem ambiguous eventually assume a clearer shape. Ominous drones eventually give way to haunting themes or moments of sublime reflection. Endless Winter only reaches its melancholy peak six minutes in, whilst We Travel slowly and wistfully expands over seven minutes.
Much of A Lost Connection is refined and subtle. Interiors is underpinned by a four-to-the-floor beat but the kick drum sound is so soft and delicate as to be more hypnotic than energising in its effect. The rhythms of Debris and Stationary suggest that Talbot and Crossley have an affinity for dub, but these inspirations are thoughtfully woven into the fabric of their sound. These tracks demonstrate that Marconi Union might have absorbed some of electronic music’s prevailing genre trends, but are also careful to distance themselves from any nascent scenes. Both are eerie mood pieces with slightly menacing undertones. Yet both are also strangely hopeful, as if for all the retreat and introversion, a new intimacy might eventually be achieved.
With dusty, twangy guitars occasionally piercing through the ether, Marconi Union find a fascinating intersection between rigour and warmth, between the functional and the sensory, between a dream world and the very real world of work. They are able to take potentially dry thematic concepts and use them to produce vivid and evocative sound. They are proudly independent and individual, not just in their aversion to promotion and publicity, but also in the nuances of their music.