The Gentleman Losers: The Gentleman Losers

Machinefabriek: Marijn

Two drowsy and dusky releases from kindred labels Büro, a new City Centre Offices offshoot, and Lampse. The oddly-named Gentleman Losers (actually two brothers from Finland, keyboard player Samu and guitarist Ville Kuukka) opts for dread-tinged languor on its eponymous outing, with decayed vinyl crackle and gently musing guitar immediately establishing the group's dust-covered sound in the overture “An Empire of Coins” (elsewhere, the haze of an exhumed mellotron haunts much of the album). Though one might be reminded of Boards of Canada, The Gentleman Losers' music is far less fantastical and, in fact, recalls Labradford more than anything. In place of phantasmagoria, the vibe is weary and retiring (one song even titled “Slow Guitars”), with meager propulsion provided by the most skeletal of snare accompaniments. The pastoral “Silver Mountain” could even pass for an outtake from an early-'70s Bo Hansson session (a compliment, by the way).

Despite the fixation on curdling tempi, the album isn't without considerable charm. During the funereal creep of “Gold Dust Afternoon,” Samu's flute-like keyboard lays a ponderous path for Ville's acoustic and electric patterns while lovely chord changes and evocative electric playing distinguish “Mansion On the Dunes.” Carefully placed glockenspiel tinkles add sparkle to “Slow Guitars,” perhaps the album's most fully-realized piece, but it's the bassoon section dropped into its middle that's most striking. Virtually a Ville spotlight, “Laureline” interweaves his clean, Knopfler-esque tone with the country-tinged cries of slide playing. Subtle contrasts emerge too: with its heavier plodding rhythm, the noir jazz of “Light Fandango” exposes the group's harder inclinations while the sunnier “Salt of the Sea” steps more lightly, almost funkily, by comparison.

Those who like their tremolo guitar work and faded piano melodies smothered in crackly vinyl textures will find much to enjoy here, with the album resembling the unsettling material Angelo Badalamenti has contributed to David Lynch films like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Kuukkas (who want to “make music from a past that hasn't happened yet”) recorded the album in a reputedly haunted house in Turku's medieval quarter.

A similar decayed atmosphere pervades Dutch musician Rutger Zuydervelt's Machinefrabriek release, with Marijn a natural companion to The Gentleman Losers. But while the latter hews to conventional song structures, Zuydervelt pushes the experimental dimension further, with two of its six pieces ambitious ten- and twenty-minute excursions. At times Marijn sounds remarkably kin to the Kuukkas' album while at other moments it departs dramatically from it. For instance, the opener “Kreukeltape” drenches piano in crackle though does so more combustibly, and a glockenspiel also brightens “Somerset” yet Zuydervelt's incorporation of guitar treatments adds considerably more menace. The concluding pieces “J'espere ca” and “Lawine” are particularly well-calibrated in how deliberately they navigate through slowly unfurling mood changes. The dramatically reverberant piano rolls that open “J'espere ca” quickly vanish within a gargantuan vortex of static and noise that eventually subsides, leaving in its wake flickers that gradually fade too. If anything, “Lawine” tightens the noose even more, with tension building glacially over twenty minutes when the piece escalates from simple piano figures at the outset to an unbelievable cyclone of noise by the end.

Ultimately, Zuydervelt's wide-ranging collection of textures and atmospheres works best as a whole; a middle piece, for example, “Wolkenkrabber” is a solid enough but not especially remarkable example of the ambient-glitch drone genre, but heard within the context of the album succeeds better. A point worth noting, incidentally, but one that's perhaps moot, given that Marijn is worth having for the awesome “Lawine” alone.

June 2006