Sometimes, all it takes is one idea. One notion, rigorously explored and thoughtfully expanded upon, that can inform and define an artist’s work in a lasting way. It’s been particularly noticeable in the realm of modern art, whether in Piet Mondrian’s merging of gridlines and primary colours, Cy Twombly’s scrawled, looping, running depictions of nature or Paul Klee’s immersion in abstraction. It’s also present in the ruminative music of London-based guitarist James Brooks who operates under the name Land Observations.
It seems pertinent on a number of levels to draw comparisons from the world of art when discussing the music of Land Observations – Brooks derives inspiration from the natural landscape and attempts to portray various aspects of the outdoor environment in musical form. It feels even more appropriate given the visual and spatial dimensions exuded by his music. The series of postcards produced as album artwork for the Grand Tour further embeds the association (Brooks also studied fine art at Chelsea College of Art after the ending of his previous band Appliance in 2003).
Musically, it continues a theme established on 2012 debut release Roman Roads IV-XI, the marking out of lulling, gentle guitar patterns assuming key importance. There’s something pure and well-honed about this stylistic consolidation however, especially when considering The Grand Tour’s background and inspiration (the album is presented as a soundtrack to a imagined journey throughout mainland Europe).
It achieves a similar sense of escapism to that present in the act of travel itself, albeit in a minimal, reduced way. It is also a calming and soothing listen – its origins may be cerebral but it also exerts a physical effect, standing as a fine example of the duality found in music, as well as the beauty of personal interpretation.
The exclusive guitar focus does hint at a post-rock feel in places (something Brooks explored in greater depth with his former band Appliance) but the music here eschews any loud-quiet-loud formula in favour of something more approaching quiet-serene-still.
The album opens with the pointillist textures of On Leaving The Kingdom For The Well-Tempered Continent while a muted motorik structure lies at the heart of Flatlands And The Flemish Roads (if krautrock bands of the 1970s were inspired in part by German autobahns, the equivalent here seems to be the rural backroads and backwaters of southern Europe). The level, linear, consistent view projected across The Grand Tour is also a reminder that some of the best music has repetition at its core.
There’s something almost mathematical and architectural about Brooks’ guitar aggregations but these qualities are conveyed humbly and unobtrusively throughout. Indeed, moments of emotion rise to the surface in the tender fragility of From The Heights Of The Simplon Pass, the extended longing of Nice To Turin and the plaintive tones of Walking The Warm Colonnades. By the time we reach Return To Ravenna a sense of completion has descended upon the album. The journey may be over but this is a picturesque route we’ll want to relive again soon.