The most casual Cocteau Twins fan could tell especially from records like Victorialand and The Moon and the Melodies that if Robin Guthrie ever made an album of solo instrumentals, it would most likely fall somewhere between the Durutti Column (the master of the ghostly and the shimmery) and Angelo Badalamenti (the master of the eerie and the ominous). That is exactly where Imperial -- surprisingly, his first solo album after two decades-plus as a musician and producer -- falls. The drip-hop records Guthrie put under his belt with Siobhan de Maré as Violet Indiana prior to this saw him taking a relatively skeletal approach to his guitar. It's not that his actual playing was much different. The difference was more in the way he treated his playing -- it was in his lack of treatments. What once throbbed and echoed endlessly was stated more plaintively. On Imperial, Guthrie again bathes everything in cheesecloth. His familiar use of reverb, echo, and who knows what other effects means that determining where a note begins and ends is just as easy as it was in the average Cocteau Twins song. The majority of the pieces could fool many a Guthrie fanatic as outtakes from the albums mentioned above -- the weightless drones and light filigrees are as mesmerizing and familiar as ever when folded into each other. "Freefall," with a simple piano pattern underpinned by soft keyboard tones, is the closest anyone has come to making an alternate Twin Peaks theme; the title could hint that it was the artist's intention to do exactly that. He breaks from the routine just enough to give the album a number of dimensions; a couple moments are relatively violent amidst Southwestern dirt-and-tumbleweed desolation, while others use discreet drum programming like latter-day Cocteaus. Surely a bright future awaits beyond this debut.
by Andy Kellman