On Maribou State’s Kingdoms in Colour, the English electronic duo are still without a definitive artistic triumph. Though, that shouldn’t blunt the impact of a mostly impressive record.
Albums do not have to be demanding. They should not have to stretch you intellectually or emotionally and should have their aims, objectives and parameters for success defined by the artist. But there is one value that good music should always demand of you, and that’s your attention. Kingdoms is interesting in that after failing totally to capture the listener on the opening trio of cuts, several of which almost beg you not to listen, the script is completely flipped as Davids and Ivory find their rhythm, with a solid run of seven wholly arresting tracks. These generate interest with precise, fragmentary lyricism; seamless production, sparse yet devastatingly effective vocal performances and a seamlessly brilliant integration of real instrumentation. Guest singer Holly Walker’s performances are icy and breathtakingly affecting on tracks like ‘Slow Heat,’ and while Khruangbin’s are no less impressive, she is appropriately outshone by the fantastic guitar work on ‘Feel Good.’
While what this record is getting at is fairly difficult to place, the emotional intensity of some of the numbers here is in no way diminished. Easily the album’s biggest strength is its ability to convey feeling and create atmosphere without this specificity. Again the duo prove themselves to be competent writers where necessary and overall effective arrangers of ideas. They strive to create not a message, but an emotional soundscape, that places the listener within a world of their making; one that is bare enough to have meaning transposed.
While I’m never going to object to an easy listen, there are unfortunately moments where the band are simply a little too happy to let the fan off the hook. That is to say, a minimum of 20 minutes of this record, including at least three whole tracks, don’t seem to do anything other than exist. Although sonically this album is enjoyable and tight, and while it certainly improves upon Portraits in many real areas, it is a little too similar in overall sound to its predecessor. In many ways you could argue this is the album that was meant to be, which is not a bad thing and shows real progression, but does beg the question as to where the band is heading creatively. While you wouldn’t know it looking at the charts, there are only so many times you can produce largely the same sound without a real sense of stagnation setting in. The experimentation on this record with piano, guitar and pipe music hints to a greater versatility than has previously been displayed. But here’s the thing – I don’t want to know you can engage me more, I want you to do it.
For the time being, however, they don’t have to do anything new, because they’ve produced a good record that moves the band very much in the right direction. There is a lot of samey, painfully average electronic music out there, and for the most part this release certainly avoids that category. As the duo push forward a sound of their own, I look to their third album as a total break through, if one is ever going to take place. Although it has its weaker moments, Kingdoms in Colour is ultimately a win for Davids and Ivory, and a very significant step towards realising their precocious protential.
Maribou State’s Kingdoms In Colour is out now.By Jarlath Nolan