Julian Fane
Special Forces

By Mikerak

 
This album is a prime example of why I believe that Planet Mu is one of the best record labels around. The output is always of fantastic quality, even if I don't like it all (I don't want to like everything a label puts out, it means they ain't experimenting enough). It's always kept extremely varied, from the fitting, spazzing madness of Snares and Hellfish at one end of the spectrum to Julian Fane at the other. Special Forces is one of the most sublime additions to the Mu catalogue. 

All the comparisons to Radiohead's more recent electronic excursions are well and truly justified, though Julian's vocals are more akin to those of Sigur Ros's Birgisson (with the slightest twinge of Beth Orton) than those of Thom Yorke. They really threw me on the first few listens – I am not usually very keen on vocal electronica pieces – but over time they have managed to capture me.  This album is a great deal stronger than Kid A.

Tracks like Freezing In Haunted Winter grab you and pull you in with gorgeous piano work and rough, scene-setting drums. You can just imagine yourself lost in snowy woodland. Slowly building textures lift you up and then disappear to reveal a soothing, rumbling, noisy landscape complemented by the mesmerising piano. Gently the beat comes back joined by the vocals and then, bang(!), a sudden rush of euphoric energy that forces an ear to ear grin to erupt on my face every time I hear it. Julian Fane is a fantastic musician, managing to orchestrate his pieces in such a way that his work provokes physical well-being, a feeling of peace and calm, without sounding like some dolphin song-riddled new age bollocks.  

Having said all that Special Forces is not a totally clean-cut affair, there is a lot of roughness and distortion woven into the fabric of the tracks. Yet it's used with panache and subtlety so as not to become the main focal point of what you are listening to; it enhances a certain epic quality which partly derives from the contrast between rough and smooth. 

Special Forces is an incredible album. In fact one of the best I have heard in a very long while. There are precious few other albums in my electronica collection I think I could say that I'll still be listening to in 10 years time. You should be able to buy the album now, though heartbreakingly its only going to be available on CD and not God's own format. There are plans to release a promo 7". I may have to shell out the cash to get myself a dubplate cut!
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