Apparently, The Remote Viewers need no less than two CDs to express their, um, views. This time we, as writers, got pretty lucky as the last messages from the band heard in this house were burnt across Control Room’s five (!) discs. Sinister Heights is a much appreciated demonstration of intelligence still existing on the planet of new music. It touches a number of issues with evident compositional competence, advanced musical taste and the right degree of technical difficulty; the result is a highly gratifying, truly brilliant album without weak points or “barely acceptable” stickers. Although the records are titled separately, this release sounds as an absolutely coherent whole.
The wealth of reeds characterizes the arrangements quite heavily: besides the project’s prime movers David Petts and Adrian Northover, Sue Lynch, Caroline Kraabel, Ken Butcher and Rachel Bartlett are also featured in different tracks. In Time Flats there’s a stronger rhythmic component at work, and drums – either real or programmed – characterize several exciting pieces such as “Terminal City” (which features Lou Ciccotelli’s percussion ensemble Eardrum) and my own favourite “Souls And Cities”, sort of a cross between Curlew and Muffins with a funky feel enhanced by Dave Tucker’s electric guitar. The majority of the scores calls for complex intersections of uneasy designs and clustery parallelisms in the higher registers, to the point that certain chords – in actuality formed by a multitude of saxophones – almost sound like synthetic presets. This should be intended as a compliment, a hint to the extreme rationality of compositions that do not admit unjustified poignancy while remaining perfectly decipherable and often remarkably vigorous. A darling track, “Villages Drowned By The Sea”, is distinctly RIO-tinged, anomalous angular figurations highlighting the closeness of the contrapuntal lines in total absence of unwarranted accoutrements and futile sonic bijoux. It is not only reed galore, though. The release’s second half, Mirror Meanings, includes “Headstone In Love”, a marvellous piece for four basses handled – as everywhere else – by John Edwards. Electronic contributions, when present, are provided both by Northover and Darren Tate, a peculiar presence in this Remote area. Another one is Adam Bohman, whose amplified objects define the otherwise “regular” sombreness of “Black Thoughts In A Black Mood”, the first disc’s conclusion. But it’s always the stridency generated by the juxtaposition of bunches of saxes that gets noticed best, as shown in the brain affecting “Spring Flood”. And again: layered mbiras (“The Land Of The Blind”), entrancing vapours of darkness (“Personal Hour”, once more with a splendid Edwards in full low-frequency solemnity), incessant challenging of our sense of mental restfulness. These people won’t let you take a siesta when this thing is spinning.
A mix of mathematic exactitude, dappled swiftness and ingenious turns informed by artistic rigour and tight event management yet sounding completely natural, Sinister Heights belongs among the most satisfying albums I’ve met in recent months, confirming The Remote Viewers as the “logically odd” group to constantly keep an eye on when looking for auditory fulfilment.