Album Reviews

Julian Fane – Special Forces

(planet mu) UK release date: 6 September 2004

When you think about it, Special Forces is a bold title indeed for your first album. Stepping away from a couple of geeky aliases common to the user-name world of electronica, 21 year-old Julian Fane makes good the reason for revealing his secret identity. Special Forces is a record that anyone would want to make their own.

Clearly a master of ecstatic delay, Special Forces is all Julian Fane’s own work. There are already whispers of Fane’s art hovering somewhere between the constellations of Sigur Ros and Mercury Rev, but the rapturously desolate soundscapes of Special Forces are illuminated by a light that is Fane’s alone.

Already Planet-Mu label boss Mike Paradinas is predicting that Fane will soon be picked up by a major. And it’s not hard to see why. Even when Fane’s elusive vocals appear on the tracks, more like a ghostly, wispy Bobby Gillespie than a nervy Thom Yorke, his soundtracks-in-waiting display an easy connectivity that belie a work presumably concocted in virtual isolation.

Envisaged by the cover artwork as an expressionist whirl of Winter, the electric hum of Special Forces is no tricky exercise in Warp-y bleeps, but inhabits a world where Vangelis‘ Blade Runner sountrack, Tomita‘s Snowflakes Are Dancing, and Gavin Bryars‘ RaisingThe Titanic might be points of departure.

Disaster Location builds the tension nicely, but with its hypnotic piano motif, Freezing In Haunted Water is probably the track that will attract the downloading community weary of splashing the cash on a whole album. It’s as close as the record gets to an anthem, with just a hint of the visceral delirium of Underworld‘s Born Slippy. No song outstays its welcome. Coronation is a gradually melting, ice sculpture of a record. Darknet and Book Repository are small meditative epics but thecontemplative textures of Exit New Year necessitate a slower, gloriously elegiac fade-out.

Despite the record’s ambient leanings, Special Forces is an album full of movement. Each track has levels on levels of atmosphere, with the gentlest of industrial clicks and beats fleshing out the mix. Despite the title, Stasis, its jingle-jangle motion more redolent of South-East Asian music, has a busy progression. Throughout Special Forces, Fane maintains an evenness of tone with a calm intensity that separates this record from exercises in aural wallpaper.

Its a mark of Fane’s skill as a composer that Special Forces hints at so many other artists, without ever moving away from the singular vision that defines it. This is an electronica record for people who find all those perverse bleeps and all that beard-scratching a little bit scholarly, intimidating, and nerdily highbrow.

This is a Mogwai/Explosions In The Sky guitar-ambient record for those who just don’t like guitars. This is a Mercury Rev record for those who don’t want those reedy vocals out-front or polluted with daft ideas like verse and chorus. This might even be an AIM record for those who have heard one hip-hop beat too many, and just crave total aura. This could even be Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space for those who can live without the drug comedowns and the blasting freak-outs.

As this isn’t the NME, I’m not going to say you need this record (do they still say things like that?) as it’s more than possible that no-one ever needs a record ever. But seeing as its here…well, it’d be downright ignorant to miss out. With Special Forces, Julian Fane may well have painted his masterpiece. Can he top it?

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