This Liverpool-based collective may lift certain substantial chunks of their sound from fairly obvious sources, but when this results in such a heady mixture of minimalist groove, neo-kosmische exploration and fluid fusion harking back to "Jack Johnson"-era Miles Davis occasional outbursts of flagrant larceny may be forgiven. Like Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die, a journey along similar lines released a decade ago, this is a sophomore effort, and likewise begins with a lengthy opening track that sets the tone for the following music. "The First League of Angels" starts with the sound of a harp and a gentle, almost medieval melody before a rock-solid backbeat kicks in and launches into an insistent groove, which sets the track up for its remaining 20 or so minutes. With a locked-in insistence, but retaining an open-ended flow, this plays out like Can's "Halleluhwah," incorporating an impressionistic ebb and flow within the space afforded by its monolithic rhythm. About two-thirds of the way through, it stages a mock collapse before the music regroups with a tonal shift, stepping up the pace with a subtle injection of energy.
It has to be said that the six tracks that follow struggle a bit to step out from under this opening statement's long shadow. The dreamlike "The Buzzard and the Lamb" passes in a space-jazz blur; "The Chart" sounds almost too self-consciously funky; "The Sea Wolves" begins
with a drifting montage of harp and sonar blips, but morphs into an explicitly
jazz-centric workout with prominent solo saxophone. However, the title track's
raga drone, interwoven with snatches of melody, departs from any obvious template; "The Spies of St. Ives" takes a kind of organic drum-and-bass pattern as its foundation, but then veers off into more esoteric territory while keeping its central arrangement sparse and forceful.
Lastly, the oscillating surface noise and underlying groove of "The Babies" makes
for a satisfying climax, with persistent, drilling intensity verging
on the brutal. Like a kind of aural conjuring trick, there's the strange, contradictory
impression that the more this music streamlines itself into patterns of endless
repetition, the further it travels, even if the actual distance may not be very
far at all.