Sullem Voe - All Naked Flames

Owain Paciuszko 31/08/2009

Rating: 4/5

Opening track The Lonely Planet conjures together the kind of bleeps and blops that usually punctuate Orbital's more atmospheric tracks against laidback acoustic guitar, menacing piano and sound samples of a gentle voiced chap talking about the titular sphere. It winds up sounding like Mr. Scruff in serious mode and is an extremely deceptive introduction to this record which, suddenly, on Fresh Hell lurches into alternative rock territory. It's such a shift that you may wind up checking the track-listing to make sure this isn't a compilation album.

Sullem Voe is, I semi-speculate, one chap from Derry in Northern Island, who, with occasional collaboration (such as drumming by Jay Dickson), has the freedom to make whatever music he feels like and this LP gives his diverse taste a chance to run free.

Nothing New sounds blissfully close to The Smashing Pumpkins at their finest, but it throws in the kind of electronica embellishments familiar from Icelandic acts such as GusGus. Into The Sun has a detached vocal quality against a dance-beat that makes this feel like Julian Casablancas working with The Chemical Brothers, and we'd be lucky if they came up with something as pleasing as this. Homeland as well has a The Strokes-like vibe, primarily akin to the quieter moments of First Impressions of Earth and Voe's flourishes such as the Eastern sounding backing vocals and percussion add a nice woozy feel to the track.

There are soggy moments, such as How Come? which slips into a more standard late-90s indie-ballad territory, whilst by no means awful it has a certain familiarity and doesn't bring much new to the mix. Rock Bottom similarly falls by the wayside, a bit too breezy in its instrumentation, skimming happily by with the abandon of a pop-song on a MOR radio station. The laidback dance sound on What Else doesn't quite work, coming where it does on the record, it feels like a Pop-era U2 B-Side.

California is the centre-piece to this record, beginning with European flavoured guitars, whilst Voe questions 'What kind of fool would you take me for?'; then the verse builds as rockier instrumentation gradually takes over with a smirk and menace. All the elements that seem to comprise Sullem Voe fuse together on this track, coming to a finale that is staggeringly well arranged with a sense of the cinematic rarely seen in rock and pop. In direct contrast Direct Lines, with its scratch of vinyl and simple yet effective arrangment, is a stripped back and emotional track slinking towards the lyric 'A light bulb in the gloom of your own affair'; where the song suddenly inverts in on itself and twists its Elliot Smith feel into a spectacular wonky-grungey finale.

Penultimate track 4:16 calls back, at first, to the album's opener, before turning into a loop-heavy dance track with wisps of a male-fronted Saint Eitenne. Mary Dillon provides additional vocals on the final track, sweet closing duet Satyr's Lullaby, it's another intriguing twist from Voe, if occasionally overly sentimental in its twinkling instrumentation.

For a debut LP this is a hugely impressive effort, eclectic and interesting showing a smart balance of a wide range of influences into a coherent whole. Whilst occasionally the track's too easily fit the designated template of their respective genre, Sullem Voe manages to bring a huge wealth of imagination and talent to these songs and, when he truly hits the mark, can create something absolutely brilliant.