ALCIAN BLUE "Alcian Blue" Elephant Stone

Friday, May 26, 2006

ALCIAN BLUE"Alcian Blue"Elephant Stone

FOR MOST ROCK musicians, the drum machine is both a convenience and a constriction; its methodical beats tend to hold songs in check. But there have been a few bands -- among them Big Black, the Three Johns and the Sisters of Mercy -- that have overwhelmed their electronic timekeepers and pressed beyond the tick-tock rhythms. Now add to that short list Alcian Blue, a local quartet whose new self-titled (and skillfully self-produced) album begins with synthbeats but moves well past them.

Thanks to singer-guitarist Jake Reid's deep-timbred vocals and the quartet's penchant for stately cadences, Alcian Blue does sound a bit like the Sisters of Mercy, notably on the album-opening "Horizons." The band's list of influences is much longer than that but is heavy on art-punk groups that, like the Sisters, arose in northern Britain in the '80s. Much of the album has a gliding, filmy sound, with sustained keyboard tones and cooing female vocals layered with Reid's voice, which is usually treated as just another instrument. Some of this material may be too dense ("Frozen Sleep") or delicate ("Caroline") to have a full life outside the studio, but other songs support Alcian Blue's reputation as an aggressive live band. Driven by what might be live drums, "Terminal Escape" surges toward the exit, raucous and unbridled.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Thursday at the Black Cat with the Situation.

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