Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Aereogramme
- Album: A Story In White
- Year of Release: 2001
- Country: UK
- Label: Chemikal Underground
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: Chem053CD
A Story In White is the debut album from a Scottish band who, despite a generally favourable response from the critics, and the backing of an indie label that punched way above their weight due to the unlikely commercial success of Mogwai and Arab Strap, never quite made it. Indeed, on breaking up in 2007, they amusingly commented on their “almost superhuman ability to avoid the zeitgeist”. The evidence of this particular record (the only one of their four that I’m familiar with), suggests that this comment was somewhat disingenuous though – playing the kind of obtuse post-rock that they do, one imagines that any relationship with commercial popularity was destined to be fleeting at best.
None of which is to say that A Story In White is a bad record, it’s emphatically not, but it is flawed, a series of embryonic ideas loosely connected, sometimes hugely successful and at other times just too ephemeral and fragmented to hang together as a truly cohesive and fully-formed statement. Aereogramme are not especially conformist in terms of fulfilling classic rock ‘n’ roll cliches, but they do at least remember to start with their stronger and more immediate tracks, before allowing the album to gradually tail off towards a slightly unsatisfying conclusion. ‘The Question Is Complete’ is an excellent start, and emblematic of the more absorbing elements of Aereogramme’s eclectic sound. A foreboding thrum of feedback and digital noise gives way to clean, angular chords, reminiscent of mid-period Sonic Youth during their post Daydream Nation run of outstanding records. As expected, the quiet verse gives way to the metallic fuzz of thunderous guitars, deploying the classic quiet – loud – quiet – louder formula that guitar-wielding indie kids the world over have continued to reinvent, ever since they first clapped ears on Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. Intriguingly though, additional listens reveal subtle layers, such as the twinkling piano that floats beneath the verses, which suggests a level of latent compositional sophistication that is partially, but not fully, explored on the remaining nine tracks that make up the album.
The second track, ‘Post-Tour, Pre-Judgement’ is even better, opening with serene chords that perfectly resolve the tension of the discordant climax to the previous song, gradually building into colossal guitars utilising the kind of overwhelming thickness found on the early Smashing Pumpkins records, combined with winsome vocal melodies and layers of organ creating a towering wall of sound. A Scottish accent quietly intones the phrase ‘Fuck the devil’, eliciting a wry smile from this particular listener, often found listening to Satanic metal majesty, which generally extols the virtues of the dark side. Aereogramme on the other hand, appear to have sampled Lucifer’s dubious delights and decided that although he may have all of the best tunes, they will do the best they can without his help.
Much of the rest of the album fails to maintain this level of intensity and quality though. Although an ostensibly post-rock band such as Aereogramme can be expected to explore the quieter side of the dynamic spectrum as extensively as they employ white noise and crunching distortion, they have not yet learned how to ensure that the more delicate soundscapes are as compelling as when they turn the dial to 11. Consequently, both ‘Egypt’ and ‘A Meaningful Existence’ meander by with little to no impact, with disjointed fragments of melody and sound creating a rather aimless feel. They get the balance right on ‘Hatred’ though. Although the almost unbearably fragile vocals are worryingly reminiscent of indie bores Snow Patrol, cellos and guitars weave together effectively, gently building to an searingly beautiful climax, tailor made for soundtracking the tearjerking final scene of a heartbreaking film. The same can be said for ‘Sunday 3:52’, which again uses the cello to devastating effect, this time joined by pizzicato violins, surging part way through the song into a full-bodied masterpiece of chamber music. It is a mournful and dignified song, and the undoubted highlight of the album as a whole.
As the barely there ‘Will You Still Find Me?’ fades away, like the spirit leaving a body, the listener is left with a number of thoughts about A Story In White. It contains some wonderful music, delightfully elegant at times, corruscatingly heavy at other – the kind of music Isis might have made had they substituted some of their more metal and hardcore influences for 80s British indie. It’s clearly the sound of a developing band though, and too many of the songs fail to leave an impression, light footprints in the sand washed away by the encroachment of the tide. As a result, holistically, the album is little more than average, although if Aereogramme were able to operate at the very high ceiling that they are clearly capable of on a more frequent basis, they may have been able to find the larger audience that eluded them during their brief existence.