I guess you could make a case for Robin Guthrie's Bella Union label, with its eclectic artist roster, being his most successful break with his past musical life as a Cocteau Twin. But with Continental, Guthrie's own muse seems firmly rooted in a sound he first established back in the early '80s. From the opening reverb and shimmer of guitar on the title track, leading off this collection, you're immersed in semi-ambient atmospherics and diaphanous textures, all indelibly stamped with Guthrie's distinctive playing style.
At its weakest, Continental sounds slight but accomplished, with Guthrie seemingly content to let his music drift by early in the running order, both "Conquering the Romantic" and "Crescent" display this generally relaxed-sounding approach that's pleasant enough, but only mildly diverting at best. But it then becomes clear that Guthrie has put together these tracks with a purposeful sense of progression, with a dynamic logic whereby the album as a whole raises its own slighter moments. So the more downbeat "Monument" shifts the tone in preparation for the deep percussive chimes and spacious guitar patterns of "Amphora" and the riveting dynamics of "The Day Star," which suddenly explodes into loud riffs, contrasting with the gently swaying melodic refrain of its intro. "Radiance" has echoes of '60s-style vintage futurism in its ringing lead lines, and "As I Breathe" beefs up an otherwise sedate sound with some underlying fuzziness. "Last Exit" returns to ambient guitar glimmer with added piano before "Pale" rounds things off with a subtly dramatic surge from minimalist synth and guitar beginnings.
Really, there are few surprises here, but there is a crucial one, which is that Continental gradually reveals itself to be a solidly constructed and rather strong collection. Hardly a great progressive leap forward for Guthrie, but a welcome showcase for his particular style.