Wildly diverse, sharply cinematic and post everything from rock to trip hop
Despite the heterogeneous stylings of this album, which includes rock skiffle and industria as well as crepuscular neo-soul torch songs, Archive’s roots lie in electronic music. Still relatively unknown in the UK but very popular in continental Europe, the core duo of this outfit, Danny Griffiths and Darius Keeler, actually started out in the obscure days of ‘ardkore. Back then, as Genaside II, they produced the cult proto-jungle 12-inch ‘Narra Mine’, which nestled in many rave DJs’ boxes during the early 90s. A few years on, in 1996, they secured Archive a deal with Island Records and made ‘Londinium’, a dark trip hop album that became something of a leftfield classic.
‘Restriction’ is Archive’s 10th long-player and is an equally strong and confident statement of musical intent. It’s a cohesive record, of that there is no doubt, but it’s difficult to classify. The elements are so wildly diverse – raucous guitars, smooth electronics, crunching breakbeats, lulling voices – if you were going to be damning about it (which I’m not), you might call it sophisticated 21st century dinner party music with its roots in post-modern bricolage. This makes it sound a bit too polite and wallpapery, though, which it is most definitely not.
Yes, there are tracks like ‘Black And Blue’, all sparse, haunted vocals and plaintive strings, which is redolent of London Grammar (and I mean that as a compliment). But then there’s also ‘Kid Corner’, a claustrophobic, bullet-splattered, foreboding industrial piece. Darius Keeler says it’s inspired by a newspaper article about “this place in America where you can buy guns for kids”. The very first track, ‘Feel It’, meanwhile layers jangly guitar riffs over deconstructed beats and is described in the press release as “a mutant hybrid of skiffle and dubstep”. I can’t think of two more unlikely musical bedfellows than that. It certainly makes for original listening.
Yet however far and wide this album ranges stylistically and texturally, what knits everything together is a melodic potency that lifts it into the realms of sounds you might wish to hear on the radio – albeit 6 Music rather than Radio 1. It’s very apt that Archive are often described as cinematic (they made a film to accompany their last album, ‘Axiom’), because many of these tracks have the feel of evolved soundtracks. With its abstract haikus and grinding, thunderous breakbeats, ‘Ride In Squares’ would be a perfect fit for a dystopic noir thriller.
If you are after some easier listening, the female vocal cuts – ‘Half Built Houses’, ‘End Of Our Days’ and the aforementioned ‘Black and Blue’ (which are sung by Holly Martin and Maria Quintile) – are perhaps the first you should think about downloading. There is an alluring reflective melancholy about them that reminds me of Portishead as well as London Grammar. But whether it’s veering to the sweet side or the dark side, ‘Restriction’ is a quality record. So how come Archive aren’t a whole lot bigger in the UK than they are? It’s a total mystery to me.