Now onto album number three and without original musical partner Tomas Greenhalf, Ryan James continues to hone and develop his hybrid mix of luxuriant synthetics and subtle guitar textures as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY.
Already preceded by three singles ‘Remember the Bad Things’, ‘Lafayette’ and ‘Achilles Heel’, ‘Infinity Mirror’ features another nine tracks and doesn’t deviate too far from the template that James has developed so far on previous longer form releases ‘King Complex’, ‘Foe’ and ‘Maximum Entropy’.
The album feels more electronic and slightly more contemporary because in the main, it lacks the presence of the breakbeat style drums that were a signature feature on earlier material such as ‘Puppets’.
Album opener ‘Preface’ features a combo of highly processed glitched vocal effects and the kind of ethereal guitar that THE XX used to do so well. ‘Lion Mind’ combines a shuffling drum loop reminiscent of DUBSTAR’s classic ‘Stars’ and some quirky high pitched synth lines. For those already familiar with MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY lyrics, much of the narrative here comes across as ultra-personal with the main hooks “running from the rest of my life” and “my lion mind has disappeared” displaying an open insecurity.
‘Remember The Bad Things’ has a synth hook in the style of THE BELOVED style (MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY have previously covered ‘Sweet Harmony’) melded to a chord progression inspired by THE CURE. Despite the title, there is something curiously life-affirming about ‘Remember The Bad Things’ and the sampled guitar power-chords drive the song to an epic conclusion.
‘Beta Blocker’ is arguably the biggest deviation in sound on ‘Infinity Mirror’, with a huge ‘Dr. Mabuse’ synth bass sound and ZTT-style production (replete with Fairlight Orchestra samples). Rippling filtered synth arpeggios which echo the omnipresent ‘Stranger Things’ theme bring the song to its conclusion.
‘Lafayette’ remains an utterly gorgeous track, listening to it is akin to relaxing in an electronic bubblebath; 808 percussion and beautifully understated guitar subtly underpin the track which is easily the stand-out on ‘Infinity Mirror’. Titled after the forename of L Ron Hubbard (science fiction / fantasy author and latterly Scientology leader), the lyrics are peppered with subtle references to the cult of Dianetics and ends with the cryptic hook “wrap me up inside your blackout curtain”. Don’t be surprised if ‘Lafayette’ ends up in The Electricity Club’s end of year best of…..
‘Skeletons’ is a waltzing piece, with backwards drum-loops and 8 bit Nintendo synth sound, whilst ‘Achilles’ Heel’ takes the album in a 4/4 direction with a welcome resuscitation of the classic Korg M1 house piano and organ bass sounds. Also worthy of mention is the brilliant vocodered synth vocal solo at the end, probably the best of its kind since the one featured on MYLO’s ‘Drop The Pressure’.
‘Infinity Mirror’ ends with the almost ambient title track; epic sweeping synth pads and echoed vocal textures slow the pulse down and take the listener into a dream-like state before the song builds to a crescendo and quickly descends into a sudden cacophony of noise.
Criticisms? There is but one, the auto-tuned over-processed vocal effects can get a bit wearing as they are present on all of the songs, but they do suit the lush synthetic aesthetic here and the attention to detail with their production is nonetheless technically brilliant.
The fact that ‘Infinity Mirror’ is primarily the work of just one musician is incredible, there is SO much craft and melody on show here you will struggle to hear a better electronic album this year – this is absolutely outstanding.
‘Infinity Mirror’ is released by Killing Moon Records in CD, double clear vinyl LP, USB and digital formats, available direct from https://manwithoutcountry.bandcamp.com/album/infinity-mirror
MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY plays live at The Old Blue Last in London on 26th November 2018 – entry is free but tickets must be obtained from https://dice.fm/event/99l79-man-without-country-26th-nov-the-old-blue-last-london-tickets
Text by Paul Boddy
26th October 2018