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Appliance - Are You Earthed?

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Artist: Appliance

Album: Are You Earthed?

Label: Mute

Review date: May. 19, 2003

Repetitive Pop Pulse

Playing the science-fiction angle, Britain's Appliance blend calm electronic rock with krautrock leanings and angular guitar/synth sounds, topped by generally sedated vocals. They have a way of constructing head-nodding rhythms that blend with dramatic guitar and synth flourishes, while I find the vocals here to be more developed and approachable than on their previous albums.

On "Tuesday is Nearly Over" the nearly mechanical drums and layers of whooshing synths are in some ways a bit like a less rockin' Trans Am. The vocals, though, add their own additional melody, part of Appliance's constant flirtations with aspects of pop music. "Go Native" moves faster and hits harder, with a very tight, almost funky, rhythm section. The drums and bass pound and pulse while a skeletal guitar line intertwines with James Brooks' tuneful, dreamy vocals. This is probably the strongest song on the album -- when the band builds up momentum and lets their somewhat krautrockish tendencies take over, the energy really flows.

Appliance are also able to mine veins of uneasiness when it suits them. Both pretty and vaguely ominous, "Mountains 1" blends slow, solid rhythms, delicate guitar melody, and burbling, squelching synthesizers. Very nice work. Its partner, "Mountains 2", is also dreamy and slow, somewhat reminiscent of the calmer periods of Spiritualized. The song builds strongly to a thicker guitar-led peak, always surrounded by twisting synth lines. The vocals are at their breathiest on this one.

"As Far As I Can See" is also reminiscent of Spiritualized in some ways, but the strong pulse and push of the drums and synth are both more straight-ahead and more trance-inducing. "Violins" achieves a sparser feel, with Brooks' laudanum-tinged vocals bouyed by a simple percolating synth rhythm and thin, pretty guitar notes.

One of the few questionable decisions here is "88", a suspenseful collection of minimal rhythms and eerie synths that's ill-served by the spoken lyrics. But Appliance save one of the best for last. The title track is a spacious, open piece with throbbing synths, bobbling percussion, and funk-inspired bass holding it down as the title is repeated hypnotically. You'll be humming along by the end.

Appliance like repetition, there's no doubt about it, but although it's all too easy for repetition to quickly mutate into boredom, they avoid that trap altogether. While I think their first effort, Manual, may still remain their most compelling, Are You Earthed? is undoubtedly stronger than their last, Imperial Metric -- the songs here simply stand together as individuals, each quite memorable while comprising a solid album.

By Mason Jones

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