Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Album Review - Scanners: Violence Is Golden

Musically schizophrenic four-piece, Scanners, have crafted a genre-elusive long-player with the re-release of their debut album Violence Is Golden, featuring four additional remixes. Sarah Daly’s searing, spitting vocals snare attention and prove capable of sculpting an arena of sound that is filled out by this mightily talented boy-boy-girl-girl outfit. But the album’s a bit of a puzzler. It explores a plethora of musical avenues, resulting in an aurally dizzying finished product: there are moments of inspired, biting, punk rock that wilt in the interim into the dreary plug-plug of ‘In My Dreams’, or twist into the strange, electronica and thick vocal harmony of ‘High Flier’.

Album opener, ‘Joy’, skids from feedback intro into grunge-rock gore, with eighties synths and a monosyllabic stop-start chorus, producing an overdone, outdated whole that hangs heavy off disjointed vocals. At other times Scanners shun grunge for the mystical, as with the psychedelic slide-guitar of ‘Evil Twin’, that sees Daly switch from screeching to soothing and seductive. Though eclecticism can make for excitement, this strange psychedelic twist is sandwiched between ‘Air 164’, a dirty, grinding Kills-esque number, and swathes of bubbling keyboard swoops in ‘Raw’, suggesting stylistic confusion more than genre evading genius.

The highlight, and a good place to start, comes in the shape of first single release ‘Lowlife’. There’s a clarity here lacking in the finished album, allowing Daley to execute gripping melodic shifts over a sophisticated guitar riff, balanced with piano punctuation and subtle violin strokes. A joyous bassline propels the track forward, eschewing both monotony and melodrama. Scanners slip easily into the quiet chug of the Cardigans in ‘Look What You Started’; Daley is just as accomplished at melancholic pleading as nasty squalling, and there’s a good lift here mid-track even if the effort seems a little tame surrounded by all that angry grunge.

The eponymous and ultimate ‘Violence is Golden’ entwines a rugged guitar riff with the waltzing fury of Daley screaming ‘a conflict of souls/a beautiful war’. Whilst this is typical of lyrics that tend to veer more towards insipid than insightful, it expresses rather adeptly Scanners’ predicament. Dark and seductively dirty, with moments of enthralling sonic exhilaration, Violence Is Golden loses cohesion in failing to consistently reproduce the tight outfit Scanners have perfected on some of their best tracks.

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