Marconi Union

There's something distinctly cinematic about Marconi Union's music, though its rarely 'soundtracky' like a functional commercial film score. There's a signature sound of sorts - clean and non-distorted electric guitar figures, reverberating electric pianos, live drums and and synthesised washes - and melody is rarely far away save for the occasional foray into abstract landscapes.

artist:
Marconi Union

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Ambient rock, ambient jazz, ambient techno, cinematic, urban, pastoral

decades active:
00's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Under Wires And Searchlights (2003, Ochre Records/Just Music)
  • Distance ‎(2005, All Saints)
  • A Lost Connection (2008, MU Transmissions/Just Music)
  • Tokyo (2009, Bine Music)
  • Beautifully Falling Apart: Ambient Transmissions volume 1 (2011, Just Music)
  • Different Colours (2012, Just Music)
  • Anomic [with Jah Wobble] (2013, 30 Hertz Records)
  • Weightless: Ambient Transmissions volume 2 (2014, Just Music)

Reviewed by Mike G

The indie music media seems rather fond of calling UK trio Marconi Union a post-rock band, which you could translate as "any artist you think could play rock but is more adventurous". Now that's pretty insulting to great rock music. The rock DNA is there alright, insomuch as founders Richard Talbot and Jamie Crossley - later joined by Duncan Meadows - often enjoy the looser sound of guitars, keyboards and live drums. Electronica is also involved, however, thus critics fell compelled to wheel out the post-rock tag.

Whatever you call it, the synthetic wrappings, (occasional) minimalist repetition and the overall slow-mo swell of Marconi Union's music certainly takes it well beyond any rock template. The band's effortless blend of live playing and electronics has a luminous and organic quality not unlike 80's new age ambient duo Emerald Web. That comparison extends to the fact that both have done a good deal of film and TV soundtrack work as well. There's something distinctly cinematic about the music, though its rarely 'soundtracky' like a functional commercial film or TV score. There is a signature Marconi Union sound of sorts - clean and non-distorted electric guitar figures, reverberating electric pianos, live drums and and synthesised washes - and melody is rarely far away save for the occasional foray into abstract landscapes.

The band's discography numbers eight original albums up to 2014 and all of them are unreservedly wonderful.

The albums Distance (2005) and Tokyo (2009) both ride on urban themes and benefit from a certain detached coolness. Tokyo's diverse, muted machine beats and industrial atmospheres make it the band's most techno-flavoured and adventurous departure from the core sound. A Lost Connection (2008) is clever in the way it sparingly uses lo-fi degradation and glitchy sounds to great effect, enriching the music while avoiding the brittle, soulless aesthetic of much digital glitch music. For sheer lushness the Jah Wobble collaboration Anomic (2013) stands out and is helped greatly by Wobble's melodic bass playing and some lovely dub arrangements. Similar on the prettiness scale is Different Colours (2012), full of pastel chords and shimmering sounds, melodies that take you places and sometimes go even deeper. Beautifully Falling Apart (2011) and Weightless (2014) are part of an Ambient Transmissions series on which you'll find some of their most restrained and dreamiest music, and the clearest lineage to ideas behind the minimalist repetition of 20th century composers Terry Riley and Philip Glass.

How does Marconi Union keep up such a constantly high standard? Part of the answer is that, while some acts will happily put their unfinished experiments on record alongside fully realised pieces, these albums sound like the product of much sifting, refinement and jettisoning the excess baggage. These guys take their time, and it shows.

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