Controlling Crowds

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When Archive entered the Swiss Top Ten, it obviously wasn't because of their novelty factor, because Controlling Crowds is an exploration of the trip-hop sound developed in Bristol over a decade prior (and, admittedly, explored by this London-based band since the mid-‘90s). That said, it is an intriguing, if slightly patchy, record densely packed with music that may not necessary control crowds, but does a good job of hypnotizing the occasional individual listener. Archive are faithful to Massive Attack and Portishead in their core sound -- Controlling Crowds has the same measured midtempo beats counterpointing the pianos, synths, and vocals to create the classic tension-in-the-night mood that is at the heart and soul of trip-hop; however, it's only the starting point for Archive, and during the run of the album, they romp through a fair share of adjacent genres. Some synth passages sound like new age gone over to the dark side, a couple of beat-less moments when the singer just whines calmly over subdued key textures actually remind of Radiohead's "Karma Police"; still others feature rapping, guitar-backed Walls of Sound, or ambient ballads halfway between Lamb and a Ghost in a Shell soundtrack. The bad news for the band is that those tricks don't turn Controlling Crowds into something original; but the effort itself is commendable, and (the good news) it makes the album versatile and fun to explore. While most trip-hop albums settle on a single vibe, this record runs the whole gamut, from quiet ambience to almost darkwave drama; the dramatic moments, in fact, dominate, but there's plenty of other stuff here. This doesn't make Controlling Crowds the most smooth-flowing album out there, and it's definitely too much to digest on the first try, but the record is coherent and catchy (well, rather, entrancing) -- enough so to invite and reward additional spins.

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