Various are a virtually nameless, faceless bunch of vocalists and electro-twiddlers who seem determined to give nothing of themselves away except an enticing trail of singles and now, at last, a full length album which veers (or rather lugubriously sways) from the robotic industrial sub-krautrock of opening track Thuunk, through the folkiesque pared-down acoustica of female-voiced Circle of Sorrow to the warehouse-sized club trance that follows.
After the first two tracks – the most unique on the album – things settle down to a steady stream of relaxing, chilled out trip-hop that works remarkably well as the backdrop to a hot, claustrophobic summer evening.
Don’t Ask and Hater in particular are rich, warm and soothing but with an equal measure of darkness that belongs in basement clubs and after-hours Soho bars, reminding you of the sounds your head makes when you’ve been up all night and the music just gets more intense when you close your eyes. This is true of Lost in particular, with its Far East influences drawn behind closed curtains.
Though you couldn’t accuse it of being derivative – it jumps about between genres too much for that – none of it is really anything special either. It’s all standard (albeit well done) trance/trip-hop which seems to have forgotten that the last 10 years have happened, but in a way that’s part of its charm. Especially pleasant are the slow, heavy beats that come and go throughout the 12 tracks, encouraging you to breathe deeply, eyes closed as you feel the smoke brushing your skin, forgetting how you got here and how you’re ever going to get home.
Lost bubbles up for a special mention, with a steady beat that sounds like the strokes of a slave ship taking you towards the distant shores of a Balearic island you can sort of remember in the distance. By Sir, you know that all perception of time or space is ready to dribble out of your ear, but you really don’t care.
Deadman, and closing track Fly offer something different again, gothic folk to be sung in castle grounds as the sun goes down. The package veers between trance, trip hop and some mad kind of electro-folk that doesn’t really belong to any age but acts as a good bridge between the past and the present your head could slide seamlessly between, given the right circumstances. On top of all that, it’s an album that gets better the more times you listen to it, welcoming you with sounds you vaguely remember from another time a place, a party you might once been to but maybe just dreamt about.
So who are Various, and what mission are they on? At the centre of the mysterious collective are Ian and Adam, but that’s about all they’re giving away. The vocalists who drift in and out of their computer-generated soundscapes remain nameless, ghosts of the cyberscales fading away with the final beats to leave us with a beautiful mystery we’ll come back to listen to over and over again.