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Circlesquare - Pre-Earthquake Anthem

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Artist: Circlesquare

Album: Pre-Earthquake Anthem

Label: Output

Review date: Jul. 6, 2004


Trevor Jackson’s Output label may have captured someone’s zeitgeist – and signing The Rapture was an incredibly savvy move – but there’s something vaguely cynical and arch about the whole operation. Its aesthetic choices appear to be predicated on a combination of canny subcultural analysis and a throat-constricting fidelity to moments past (in this instance, the early 1980s’ punk/disco/goth/etc mash-up.) The simple truth remains that, with the exception of “House of Jealous Lovers” and LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” (both licensed from DFA), every Output release has been underwhelming, eliciting little more response than a sideways, non-committal glance. It could well be that Jackson is a much better DJ than he is label curator and musician – that his finest work to date is his contribution to the DJ Kicks series suggests as much.

Circlesquare’s debut album is no different. The project of artist March21 (Jeremy Shaw), the sound is definitively retro-referenced by design, with production hooked into a thin mainline of electronics to contextualise the disc as being ‘of its time.’ Not timeless, then: and it would be a sad indictment if a record this flat and wilting could make the trans-generational leap to ‘timeless’ or important, or even fleetingly significant. Shaw has evidently drunk from the turn-of-the-decade noir tensions of bands like Joy Division, and his textural fascinations – blandly ominous drones leavened with an affectation of ‘grit’ – are reminiscent of the shoegazing pop music of the early-'90s. Ponderous and method-actor disaffected, Shaw’s vocals are weak, and his lyrics move from abstract mantras to bleak observations. It sounds as though Shaw would like his lyrics to take on the weight of "anthems of the depressed" (he’s even disingenuous to ask "do you believe in rock and roll", which is almost cute), but they’re too paper-thin and empty-headed to register.

Pre-Earthquake Anthem sounds like some kind of methodically mapped project attempting to staple several musical approaches together as an experiment or tribute. It doesn't work. Circlesquare’s shopping-list of romantic disillusion, low-level drones and portentously whispered vocals comes off limp and lifeless.

By Jon Dale

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