Lien - Lien

George Bass 23/01/2006

Rating: 3/5

If you're someone who counts Howard Shore, The Dust Brothers or Vangelis as cornerstones of your CD collection then you'd do well to have a butcher's at the latest offering from south-coast soundtrack aficianados Lien before they get groomed by a Soho production ring. Following their lengthy but fruitful hiatus (two EPs and one album in three years, not bad going for a breather), Dan McRae and Dave Ren have finished cutting their solo teeth and got their heads together to release this, the nameless follow-up to their 2002 debut Matica. This time the action has jumped from Southampton imprint Skool to McRae's London-based outfit Thin Recordings, and any fears of a sophomore slump have jumped with it; it seems their time apart tinkering on their respective Thin Films and T'ien projects has given Ren and McRae's co-operative output a dose of something powerful and mind-expanding. Probably illegal too.

Lien's dedication to their own steer of 'cinematic electronica' remains as earnest as ever and the tracks on offer here conjure up all manner of imagery, infused with the intricate tweaking which made their debut such a rewarding headphone adventure. This time however, things have taken a darker, more sinister turn. Whereas Matica was the perfect soundtrack for an eleven-part PG-13 sci-fi saga, the black album is a more dramatic, nocturnal affair. If Iain M. Banks' 'Use Of Weapons' ever makes it to the big screen then this is what should be coming out of the speakers: a sonic labyrinth the listener navigates by strands of violence, redemption, revenge and catharsis. Disc openers Final Ghost and T'ien are cheerfully understated ditties - dangled bait to lure us into the spooky maze which awaits. Things start to get prickly on the string-laden Imperial Fights with its stirs of bass and robotic sneering, and by the time you get to Terratogens you're lost in a dark cave, shivering at batlike flitters and the moaning glacial chimes that McRae used to perfection on his Eskimo LP. Undercut with Dave Ren's twinkling synths and ominous score, this album is a honed exponent of Lien's 'directors as DJs' approach to music, where films are made without pictures. Sweet Eclectic demonstrates this ethic perfectly: imagine the National Grid converted into a sound; a symphonic overture of pylons wired together in parallel with Order Of Nine to produce a thirteen minute paradox of melancholy euphoria and warm digital fuzz.

The album reaches a belated peak with the gorgeous Subrider: three minutes of deep ambient bliss that evokes both The Orb's 'Orbus Terrarum' and Boards Of Canada at their heart-tugging and nostalgic best. Enjoy the tranquility while you can because it's soon back into the fog for epic two-part coda All Under Heaven, all rousing strings and stormy bass, the perfect score for the pre-showdown weapons assembly montage.
After such a largely sinister trek, Girl Kimono may not be the shimmering light at the end of the tunnel we were expecting - think spent warrior amidst corpses, post-carnage moment of reflection - but that goes to show that Lien don't just write the soundtrack, they write the script as well. Though it won't be to all tastes this is definitely a record that warrants repeated attention and will stick in your mind like a taste. Fade to black, and bring on part three.