Engineers’ latest release a dull effort
Shoegaze, in a nutshell, is theme music for dreaming. In a semi-conscious drift, substance gives way to texture. Emotions are established rather than statements. The sound can bloom from a whisper into a wall of reverb-drenched guitars, awash with frothy vocals and crash cymbals. It’s difficult to take it all in, but shoegaze is meant to sweep you away. Sometimes the experience is breathtaking. Other times, it all seems like haphazard noise. The sophomore effort by the British post-rock group Engineers, Three Fact Fader, finds itself vacillating between these two extremes.
Four years have passed since the release of their stellar self-titled debut in 2005. Since then, Engineers have focused on further developing their sound: a meld of ambient post-rock, shoegaze, and psychedelic influences. Though still sonically distinct (especially with the pillow-soft vocals of lead singer Simon Phipps), the end result is a lukewarm album that lacks substance.
Three Fact Fader comes on strong but cannot sustain itself. The opener, “Clean Coloured Wire,” establishes a swirling, smoldering sound which harkens back to their previous album. The song’s latent energy makes it an excellent prelude for the next track.
The album climaxes all too soon with the glorious “Sometimes I Realise.” The first lyric captures the dreamy essence of the song: “Time works slower in red / Flowing back to the start.” The driving bass line of the verse escalates up to the chorus, an afternoon thunderstorm of distortion and drums — easily the best moment on this album.
The cloudburst excitement of “Sometimes I Realise” is quickly dissipated by the next track, melancholically titled “International Dirge.” Slightly somber and flavored with psychedelic flourishes, it’s a decent song but does not mesh well with the established sound of the album. Fader begins to wander at this point with two more slow and sedated tracks.
Thankfully, the energy begins to rise again with “Hang Your Head,” an upbeat number with an insistent beat and huge swaths of guitar chords. Engineers also achieve a similar sense of liveliness with the title track, “Three Fact Fader.” But the sound changes, for the worse yet again, from animated to anemic for the next song.
With the possible exception of the final track, the back half of Three Fact Fader consists of decent yet forgettable songs. There are a few successful moments here and there: the string orchestra section at the end of “Emergency Room,” or the sudden transition in “The Fear Has Gone” from calmness to calamity. Yet overall, these tracks fail to provoke any emotions. Despite the tidal waves of droning guitars and cascading drums, there’s no feeling of majesty that groups like M83 or Sigur Rós accomplish so well.
In the end, Three Fact Fader loses itself in the ennui of shoegaze. Tracks like “Sometimes I Realise” demonstrate what Engineers are capable of, but the album as a whole fails to reach its potential — a disappointment considering some of the excellent parts in some songs. Fader sounds like a dream but it never awakens from its comatose state.
88.1 WKNC DJ Pick of the Week is published in every Tuesday print edition of the Technician, as well as online at technicianonline.com and wknc.org.