Greg Haines - Slumber Tides

George Bass 14/12/2006

Rating: 4/5

If the words "classical music" have you reaching for a copy of Billy Bragg's Brickbat and an ANFO cookbook, you'd do well to pick up the debut release from newcomer Greg Haines. Though young enough to still get ID'd by every publican in his Surrey stomping ground, Mr H has the classically trained shell-like of someone four times his age and with a penchant for Radio 3 and film OSTs. Slumber Tides, which at forty-five minutes divided between five tracks is neither EP nor LP, is a brilliant example of the eighteen-year-old's mission to see what happens to an orchestra when you replace the sweaty bloke in a tight tux with a computer. It also shows just how good a sound you can create if you spend a year travelling round Europe with an open mind and a closed mouth, then knuckle down over your consoles with some sheet music and your mobile turned off.

Kicking off with Snow Airport, you'd be forgiven for expecting the record to snuggle into seven minutes of honeysuckle IDM that leans towards the kitschier side of Ulrich Schnauss. Not a bit of it, as the truth is that the brooding strings and spartan synth twinkles that make up the opening number are arranged so precisely that they simply don't need a bucketload of blips and glitches to hold your attention. Violins eek out a lonely refrain, cold as the future, before a flood of electronic bass gives the track an iron backbone. If it's intended as a salute to a benchmark Labradford LP then centrepiece composition Tired Diary is Haines' refined take on Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the quarter-hour guitar crescendos and punctuation hopscotch having been ironed out with patient electrolysis. Instead, cellos and electronic minutiae draw doom-laden soundscapes reminiscent of the Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP, probably harking back to their author's turmoil at having to hike through Scandinavian tundra with a gash in his Goretex. The action unfolds more in the vein of Primer than Back To The Future, and manages to remain as grounded and unpreposterous as the soundtrack to a declassified Chernobyl documentary.

That's not to say that Haines is on a die-hard sulkathon; Arups Gate is eleven minutes of undiluted bliss, and as warm a piece of music you'll hear without physically plumbing your iPod into your combi-boiler. Glockenspiels chime like water dripping through a cave, while Kristin Evensen Giaever's ethereal high-notes lend the yearning pipes an irresistibly hypnotic quality, bringing to mind Digitonal's collaboration with Kirtsy 'Halcyon +On +On' Hawkshaw on Maris Stella. Similarly, Caesura, with its solemn horns and strings that slowly take aim for euphoria, could hardly be described as your standard dose of sprawling post-rock lithium, and as the music gives way to the sound of a boat crossing a calm sea you're left in a fine mood to switch off on.

Ultimately, Slumber Tides is an experiment in classical synthesis that the more you listen, the more you appreciate. Haines' fusion of digital acrobatics and bespoke concerto may not be as clusterbombastic as the likes of Frog Pocket or Aphex Twin, but his album remains an incredibly vivid electronic composition, and one that will undoubtedly get him a heads-up on a lot of Wardour Street Christmas mailshots. Any students looking to escape the Tool/Boards Of Canada cliché loop should be getting stoned to this music, tube of Pringles in one hand and pen and paper in the other. Greg Haines is a bloke who can really listen.