Every music writer in this land and the next lives for moments like this, the moments when everything you’re doing and about to do stops, dead, as the record you’ve just put on, entirely on a whim, proves to be absolutely, astoundingly arresting. Stop. Stumble. Fall. Rest.
AM Syndicate should ring few British residents' bells – they are, after all, a relatively recently assembled ensemble from Texas with no more than a pair of demos behind them (that said, one of those exquisitely packaged demos did find itself reviewed here). Bells, though, should be sounded at once: come one, come all, to this little Empire, through the gates before thee, where mighty champions of the prog-rock cause weave mysterious riffs while a heavenly string section slices the air with bows ablaze. A place where flowers suckle on the juices of butterflies, where trees fall from oversized acorns like a shopping bag split open on a high street, painting the paving slabs pink with spilled strawberries, crushed underfoot by something beastly. A place staggering so slightly from the straight and narrow of the normal that some mightn’t notice any difference; those with magpie eyes, though, will soak everything in like a sponge before squeezing their collected experiences – tales of the strange and obscure, the frightening and alien – over each and every fellow that treads the same path they walk so carefully. A veer awry and all is lost to the demons in the depths of the forest, the red eyes in the black scrub coming alive and stealing back whatever they left exposed over the course of nine songs, of nine adventures into a world of the fantastical.
It’s in every sense deliberate, you understand: AM Syndicate give these songs as gifts, knowledgeable that the weak will succumb to their subliminal whims. Come to the forest of the Empire, do; bring with you only water enough for one way; you’re ours to keep as we will. The weak will come on the back of hooks designed to hang a selection of comparisons upon, hooks to which no real comparison can ever really attach itself. But, since without such measures no good can come of the otherwise rambled: AM Syndicate drink from the same tainted streams as ...Trail Of Dead, and their ambition beyond the constraints of what will sell – of what is deemed fashionable in the world they only co-inhabit – is on a level with any long-forgotten prog-rock beast; their minstrels sing a song born of folk’s own lore, too, when it suits them. Hear: ‘Textura Aspero’ is Espers by way of* Dead Meadow*, strings sighing their last as a cloaked assailant, who tempted them into its lair with Pied Piper precision, gently buries a blade deep and clean. Listen hard and the sound of blood falling onto a floor of stone and skin can be heard, against the crackle of a record’s final groove and its arm’s return to the point of origin. ‘Love Dumpster’ matches lullaby piano and wonderful violin work with words of a soul lost to wander alone, forever; its fate in its own sinewy-fingered hands.
Humour is not lost, whatever horrors await wayward souls: AM Syndicate tells us that a song is called ‘Ode To The Office Goat’, when it’s apparent that they know not what an office is. Goats, they understand: in times of hardship they slay them for all they offer forth. A voice – perhaps, although it does not seem of this world – sings for all a call, like a siren wishing passing sailors onto rocks unseen beneath apparently calm seas. Then, drums. Then, what sounds like a transmission from the other side of the sky; its message is muddled, reduced to chimes and chirps, but it surely carries word of warning. Pace is gained, tension builds, volume increases; every nerve burns. And then everything collapses – the soil about you disintegrates; the sky above falls, bringing with it every star upon which you once wished; the underworld calls but your waking hour battles valiantly against talk of children dying and the washing of blood from hands that have become so used to the staining, day in day out. A cackle echoes as eyes accept the light once more, pupils aching as retinas become accustomed once more to the realm of reality.
Flinch, realisation, progression: tasks are resumed but the blood remains cold, the senses remain heightened, a state of alert a residual effect that’s impossible to shift. The foxhole is lined, forever – return journeys will only see it contract, trapping one within its silken grip, its spears retracted until fluids require replenishing. No more trips on a whim, no more background-only airings. Development is no longer arrested, a dead stop straightened, and the writer can attempt to tackle the record that’s not at hand’s but arm’s length, just in case.
‘Attempt’ being the operative word.
Or: This is a precedent-setting release, the first great album of 2006. It sets the bar for all others to limbo under. Buy, buy, buy.
9Mike Diver's Score