Interested in a blend of Massive Attack and Pink Floyd with brilliant artwork?
Back in July 1996 I got hold of a 12″ in a plain white cardboard sleeve by a band I’d never heard of called Archive called So Few Words. It was an intriguing little beast too. Some low-key trembling violins interrupted by low-key, almost lazy beats and some low-key laid-back rapping of some vaguely positive-consciousness lyrics. The music ebbed and flowed underneath it all, laced with interesting synth sounds. It sat in my head for weeks, refusing to surrender its low-key tenancy. The B-sides were a remix of a song I hadn’t heard yet and a slightly extended version of another track I hadn’t yet heard*
Next came Londinium, which to my mind is Archive’s masterpiece. Again this is classically tinged trip-hop with all the trimmings and a beautifully delicate vocal from Roya Arab. The instrumentation is, again, gentle and delicate. The rapped section, by Rosko, which is folded into the mix a couple minutes in is perfectly judged and I love the manner in which the line ‘In every direction you turn, touch fire and burn’ is delivered. The song then flares into what can only be described as a prog keyboard workout, the likes of which hadn’t been heard on planet earth for 25 years when this was recorded. I had forgotten before today just how exquisite and original this track was – highly recommended. In the time-honoured fashion of great singles the B-sides, ‘Sun That I Know’ and, the promisingly-titled, ‘Ubiquitous Wife’ are just samey.
After this I was desperate for the LP to drop through my postbox and in October 1996 the band obliged. Also called Londinium I was just gob-smacked by the brilliant Hipgnosis-style cover, inner sleeve and gatefold art showing sets of operating theatre-style lights posed above varying rectangular shapes in a variety of incongruous locations, all beautifully photographed by Andy Earl. It’s an LP I’d enjoy owning just for the cover alone. But it’s more than that, although it does have to be said that the best two tracks were the preceding singles. Archive had a formula, a damn fine and original one it has to be said, but a formula nonetheless. In the Iranian-born Roya Arab they had a delicately-nuanced singer with velvet-soft, steel-strong voice and their music was consistently imaginative. The core of the band were Darius Keeler and Danny Griffiths, who had been Genaside II a breakbeat act who released one of my absolutely favourite singles from the 90’s Narra Mine (but more on that in about 2016, probably), sampled by The Prodigy for Firestarter. But I digress.
There are some other good tracks here; ‘Headspace’ is a downbeat take on contemporary soul with some excellent guitar touches courtesy of Karl Hyde of Underworld-fame; ‘Darkroom’ has a beguiling mix of jaunty paranoia and interesting beats. In terms of the more hip-hop orientated tracks here, the likes of (Underworld-sampling) ‘Skyscraper’ and ‘Beautiful World’ sound pretty close to what Dan The Automator was coming up with and that’s no problem at all.
That said, overall after about three sides worth I suffer from TFS** and it all starts to morph into one overly tasteful whole. To my mind Londinium needs some more dynamics, maybe even a bit of something less tasteful to jar the listener a bit after three sides, a cover of Carcass ‘Genital Grinder’ maybe? my criticism is that it is all a bit grown-up.
After the LP the band released a remixed version of Londinium (the single) remixed by Kevin Shields. It loses the light and shade of the delicately-featured original track, but Shields turns it into a woozy, pulsing psychedelic groove, basically what everything sounds like by the end of a really good night out. It’s interesting, but I prefer the original.
The Floyd comparisons? well, it’s all in the scope and cover art and a certain Mr Dave Gilmour was thanked in the credits. Intriguing.
*’All Time (Archive Remix)’ and ‘Organ Reprise’ – the former is better, more atmospheric than the LP version.
**Trip-hop Fatigue Syndrome: I can’t reveal how I first suffered this as I’m bound by the Official Secrets Act, let’s just say I saw active service in the Bristol scene of the early 90’s.