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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Robin Guthrie

Continental

Review by Bruce Stringer

Continental is Robn Guthrie’s second solo album and is an almost conceptual blend of atmospherics and lush guitar sounds. In a manner like that of a science fiction movie soundtrack, Continental seems to be a progressive step away from the strict format of the Cocteau Twins song structure in a direction familiar to ‘soundscape’ artists. This all-instrumental album builds throughout the sequence of tracks making the song divisions almost obsolete. It is a unique way for the listener to be taken on a journey, which – by many accounts – could be considered that of a concept album.

Robin Guthrie seems to have created a great CD. The unfortunate thing is that so many people may miss out on it believing that it may be a pale representation of a Cocteau Twins album. What you get is a musical journey that would best be experienced in a total listening environment where one can take in the grand scope of what Guthrie has realized. He has produced an interesting piece of art that can be appreciated on many different levels and would suit (a) anybody interested in the Dave Gilmour school of sound, (b) anybody with a yearning for meaningful music, (c) every Cocteau Twins fan, and (d) anybody with a pair of ears!

Produced and written by that rarest of breed, the fabulous all rounder, there should be a spot in every Cocteau collection for this album and, if this is any indication of things to come, the next dozen by Guthrie. Beyond the obvious, this CD is of the highest production quality and is, well, damn near perfect.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Continental
Spacey and with an "end of the world" appeal, the opener has some brooding delay guitar that is occasionally overtaken by sound effects and subtle fluttering keyboard notes. After a mere 2:30 the drums burst through with the looseness of an 80’s indie drummer and the tight punchy bass work of a seasoned Goth exponent. The repetition builds with the random nature of the sounds accenting here and there before crashing down to a formidable ending. The song could go on forever – it has that quality, but Guthrie knows when a good thing can go bad so opts out on a high.
Conquering the Romantic
With yet another guitar introduction that lasts for an eternity of moodiness, the whole song consists of cool jangly guitars – no rhythm tracks, just guitars! There may be a hidden message in the fact that the first 3 tracks all begin with the letter "C" as these pieces seem to be inseparable. This is a nice bridging number to offset the darkness of "Continental."
Crescent
This probably the most Cocteau Twins sounding number so far. "Crescent" contains some impressive build up of suspension in a friendlier musical composition. The drums enter halfway through and keep the song pumping along with the blistering delight of stars and fireworks before a crescent moon. Although quite short, this could best be summarized as the antithesis of the opening track, here ending the triumvirate of mood-enhancing music to accompany angels'  flight.
Monument
"Monument" sounds like an offshoot from the Cocteau Twins’ Milk & Kisses album, with constant minor key strumming and guitar effects soaring far off in the mix behind the 4/4-rhythm section. There appears to be much at play here: Guthrie’s 50’s style guitar sounds only serve to highlight the smooth atmospherics. The vocally inspired synthesizer sounds seem to remove any need for actual vocals. His sliding upper pitches augment the changing modes of musical impartiality.
Amphora
"Atmoshperica" could be another title for this spacey number with swirling clouds of wind that act as a platform for the brooding arpeggios and plucky synth notes. Anticlimactically, the track ends at 2:45  - proof that the compositional elements on this CD have been formulated around a grand construction of multi-song arrangements.
The Day Star
Sequenced backing and clean arpeggios (again) create a rhythmic tension before bursting into Cocteau Heaven. The warbling bass plays out under the loose-fit drums, which – in turn – support the developing somber mood of the guitars. The breathy keyboards force the song to an inevitable halt as the build-up can only go so far. Is that a real voice in the mix? One might be forgiven for imagining that Guthrie has a great falsetto voice or a great keyboard module with realistic vocal samples. This is a great one for any Cocteau Twins fan!
Radiance
The radiance of the warm, clean guitars bounce about with a delayed tendency as the melodic picking has Mr. Guthrie working his magic until the song has its genuine start with drums and bass. This is probably the most commercial track on the album and would suit a lighter moment in a French film as the character realizes his or her luck has changed. The very nature of what this man does has a harmonic and melodic sensitivity to the more radio friendly elements of music and he can write hit songs as well as the darkest of instrumental compositions.
As I Breathe
Sounding more like a Pink Floyd intro, the minor key strumming turns to major as the revolution of chords turns on the dial. The wind sounds of the keyboard appear once more in breathing motion as if sleeping. The rotation comes full circle once again: the drum skins are smacked with staccato precision over the pumping synth sequence, a la "Heaven Or Las Vegas." One could imagine vocals on this as it has an inherent sing-along quality. The full arrangement pauses to allow Guthrie's circular chord pattern to gently fade away.
Last Exit
The inevitable piano song, "Last Exit" might seem more at home on a pop album if it wasn’t for the classic guitars from heaven from the soft-spoken Guthrie. Although he tends to talk down his musical ability, it seems a pity that his skills have been overlooked by the mainstream in that his ability to write some of the catchiest pop tunes would relegate him to a secondary level. There are very few musicians that could write a stunning piano-electric guitar instrumental with absolutely no rhythm section at all and still have the listener glued to the speakers.
Pale
"Pale"'s introduction of weird synth-like harmonically altered notes takes 1:14 to lead one to the smooth, delayed whammy guitar melodies. The sustained chords are pure and clinically clean. The drums and bass enter a minute later to give us another relic of the 4AD-era Twins. The upbeat feel and pulsating rhythm take the listener on a journey through the sounds of yesterday with electric piano and retro cymbal sounds. The build-up is cut short with some more weird backwards attack effects. As the longest track on the CD (at 6:48),Guthrie has carried on his ritual of experimentation, held over from the albums he made as part of the famous three, to end the album.
 
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