Every so often, an album comes along that seems confusing and borderline intimidating at the outset, but when time is spent with it, its various intricacies start to reveal themselves until what is left is an album that is technically impressive on every level. The second album from Scottish septet Remember Remember falls into this category. It sounds intimidating because of the group’s colourful, unusual ideas about melody, ones that take influence from minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. It presents itself as a tough nut to crack, but does so in a mischievous kind of way.
‘The Quickening’ can be best appreciated when listened to from start to finish. Failing that, the next best approach is to think that there are four different kinds of songs present. There are eight on the album, so that means - you guessed it! - that there are two songs in each category. The album begins with its first pair: two expansive, progressive songs in which ideas are presented before being developed on and expanded. The band display their ability to take a melody and go to ridiculous lengths to test it out on the ambitious, ten-minute ‘Ocean Potion’, which is only the second song on the album: this sounds much more daunting than it actually is.
There are also songs on this album that are widescreen and cinematic. Remember Remember are on Mogwai’s record label, and appropriately enough, ‘Scottish Widows’ has more than just a faint whiff of the post-rock group to it. The title track is cut from similar cloth, a contemplative piano-led piece that marks an important point in the course of the album. These songs appear either side of another pair of related tracks: ‘Hey Zeus’, with its insistent drums and fuzzy bass, matches up well with another epic, ‘Unclean Powers’, songs which allow the use of a full string section to come to full fruition.
The final pair of songs are the two most accessible moments on the album. ‘One Happier’ begins with an arresting piano figure before developing into something Sigur Rós would have been proud to write. The predictable climax is thankfully averted, however, ensuring that Remember Remember don’t fall victim to any post-rock clichés. The closer, meanwhile, is as close to a pop song as the band have ever written; ‘John Candy’ is unashamedly euphoric, and even though some people would have trouble believing it was written by the same band that wrote the rest of the album, it slots in perfectly, giving ‘The Quickening’ the triumphant send-off it deserves. As its coda dissolves into crashing cymbals and looped guitars, there is time to reflect on how ambitious the record is. It doesn’t conform to any one genre; all sorts of influences are on display, and the end result is something that may not be instantly accessible, but is remarkable nonetheless.
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Remember Remember choose to teeter on the edge of epic rather than fiercely indulging in it.