Julian Fane's debut album Special Forces was one of those releases from a young artist that had just enough high points to really make it stick and out make you wonder what he would do next. With a nice mixture of electronic textural elements and programming alongside more organic guitars and occasional falsetto vocals, it was a deconstructed ambient pop album that really shone in places.
Our New Quarters is the second album from Fane and finds him pushing even further into a more straightforward song-like territory than his debut. There's much more of an emphasis on vocals here, and while the sonics are even more solidly produced and constructed, it still feels like there's something missing a lot of the time.
Radiohead comparisons were mentioned sparingly for his debut, but on this newest release they're even more apt. It's largely due to Fane's high falsetto vocals sounding almost exactly like those of Thom Yorke in a lot of places, but the music has gotten even more ponderous and heavy as well. Album-titled "Our New Quarters" opens the release with waves of squealing guitars and electronics that are eventually taken over by marching piano chords and those thin, wavering vocals before the entire piece collapses into hiss. "New Faces" sounds even more like a Kid A discard, as multiple layers of swarming electronics and more swelling piano chords move over crunchy programmed beats while Fane's delicate, almost indecipherable vocals manage to keep the track feeling melancholy.
When Fane gets away from the more wilting vocal melodies, the album elevates itself nicely about the sort of lukewarm and over-emotional sounds that bog down much of the release. On "Youth Cadet," overdriven beat programming pumps with compression while almost android-style filtered vocals move the listener across an alien landscape littered with decimated guitar noise and other eerie sounds. "The Moon Is Gone" and "Break And Enter" both juxtapose sharper beats and rhythm sections with less drowsy lyrical and melodic elements, and the results are easily two of the more interesting songs on the release. "Rattle" is another standout, with old school Aphex Twin-style crunchy beat programming underneath early New Order-esque synth soars that actually all work quite well along with the quiet vocals.
In addition to the darker electronic pop pieces and the more minimal vocal-driven pieces, Our New Quarters ventures into a couple places where Fane moves songs forward with a more post-rock crescendo-style build. Both "Jonah The Freak" (which sounds oddly like a Mogwai song title) and "Among The Missing" start soft, then gradually pile on layers for about five minutes, with varying degrees of success. As mentioned above, there are songs on Our New Quarters that sound eerily like Radiohead and/or Thom Yorke's solo album The Eraser. If you're feeling like you need a fix of either two of those, this should serve the purpose. Otherwise, it'll probably be just a little too hit-or-miss for your taste.