(Domino Records, out Fri 1 Feb 2019)
There’s a scene at the start of Gremlins where the inventor finds his way into a mysterious backstreet shop, jammed to the rafters with dusty curiosities of every kind, curated from all corners of the globe. The vision of this would act as a pretty accurate metaphor for much of Drift Code, the second outing for ex Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb (aka Rustin Man).
Startlingly, some seventeen years have passed since his collaboration with Beth Gibbons on the sublime Out Of Season and these songs have been brought together over the intervening period with Webb painstakingly constructing each track, every instrument played by his own hand. The result is a sonic detritus that might line the nest of a magpie – at once shiny and feathery but occasionally leaving uncomfortable edges for a less than ideal fit.
Opening track Vanishing Heart, with its languid piano figure evokes the frigid shiver of winter, slowly growing in warmth while Webb sings “it feels so good to be alive / in the Summertime”, which still might seem a long way off. Judgement Train rumbles ahead, maintaining a strong momentum, its chain gang chug reminiscent of Spiritualized’s Run.
Elsewhere, the Latin shuffler Our Tomorrows undulates nicely, making the most of some punchy brass, allowing Webb to shake off some of the dust that tends to cover the second half of the record.
The only recognisable nod to Out Of Season comes by way of The World’s In Town, its brushwork rhythm intricately constructed and off kilter in a pleasingly familiar way. There’s such a rag bag of different textures that always keeps the album’s camber at a slant, however, trying to make use of so many different sounds creates its own issues.
Webb’s vocal delivery sits in multiple layers which creates a good framework on which to hang the songs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave much room for everything else. Often the compositions can feel cluttered, without proper distance to breathe and break out.
Pitched somewhere between David Bowie and Neil Hannon, his voice can edge out the subtlety of his compositions, resulting in songs that don’t quite get to where they might have gone.
Light The Light feels forced, shoehorning wah-wah bass, xylophone and strident piano together whilst also attempting a perilous mid-song drop out. The bombastic Martian Garden also suffers from a lack of clarity, the multiplicity of its layers eventually serving to consume themselves.
Drift Code is the sound of a compulsive hoarder, unwilling to throw anything out, which sometimes threatens to diminish the sum of its parts. But if you rummage around long enough, there is treasure to be found.