It’s safe to say that the United Kingdom has generated its share of influential, unique and superb artists over the last fifty years. It has essentially led the advancement of popular music since the beginning of the sixties, and great artists are still crossing the Atlantic to reach American audiences. With their second LP, Three Fact Fader, Engineers fit on the list. There is definitely a large audience for their smooth, emotive and groove oriented sound.
Engineers have the most expansive list of influences I’ve ever seen. Included are sixties pop acts The Beach Boys, The Turtles, and The Zombies, as well as more obscure artists like Amon Düül II, Brian Eno, Sonic Cathedral, and Kate Bush. There is definitely an emphasis of the warm harmonies of the first group, mixed well more spacey psychedelic atmospheres and a touch of synthesized accents reminiscent of Radiohead. They blend it together well.
A synthesized loop opens “Clean Coloured Wire,” a laid back psychedelic trip with wavy guitar lines and a mellow, dreamy melody. The track has a nice amount of stuff going on without seeming too complex or loud; it’s symphonic without any symphony. The music never really changes, but it’s interesting enough not to need to. It’s more of an instrumental opening with a coating of a voice than an actual song (which is fine).
“Sometimes I Realize” is a more immediate track (with a more distinctive vocal and focus on chord changes), making it the first real “song” on the album. There is a feeling similar to the early 90s Brit pop revival acts like Oasis and Blur, and I was instantly reminded of The Great Depression and their stellar Forever Altered album. The vocal is seductive and cool, and the band backs it up with the right amount of tension and angst without making it actually sad.
The arpeggio of “International Dirge” instantly reminded me of “The Red Telephone” by Love (from Forever Changes), and it’s a more upbeat track than the last (thought just as memorable). The casual electric guitar adds a nice touch of ferocity, and once the harmonies come, there is a similarity to Welsh pop kings Super Furry Animals. It’s another slick track.
“Helped By Science,” the best track so far, is a lower tempo song that continues their formula of silky melodies gracing lush rock music (with a touch of orchestral treatment). There is a certain romanticism Engineers possess that’s charming. “Brighter As We Fall” showcases subtly crashing cymbals during the chorus, and there is an oceanic soundscape that causes a feeling of loss similar to Icelandic masters of affect Sigur Rós (which is probably due to the fact that Ken Thomas produced).
A quicker pace comes with “Hang Your Head,” and it follows the same qualities Three Fact Fader has expressed thus far. “Crawl From The Wreckage” begins with an intriguing combination of piano chords, loops and vocal chanting. Then we have another luxuriant pop track underscoring harmonies. It’s very easy for music to become annoying if it’s redundant, but somehow Engineers craft songs based around repeated ideas and it works.
The title track fades in with a fountain of synthesized atmosphere, allowing the bass to lead the show. Honestly, this track doesn’t have the energy or appeal of what’s come before it, but it’s still more intriguing than most of what gets radio play. However, it fades into “Song For Andy,” which begins with a brief heartbeat, attaching an immediacy of drama. Lyrically, it’s about the singer’s friend (or relative) Andy attempting suicide, and it’s one of the best tracks on Three Fact Fader.
Once again opening with a processed loop (which always adds vibrancy, so it’s welcome) is “Emergency Room.” It moves quickly and uses a swirling orchestral arrangement at the end (nicely done). “The Fear Has Gone” begins with depressing cellos (is there any other kind?), and it’s one of the best moments on the album simply because it’s relatively unique for the genre. Its verse section is the most sparse and personal thus far (it’s almost a whispering confession like Radiohead’s masterpiece “Videotape”), and the instrumental bridge is fantastically grandiose, leading to a hypnotic chorus. It’s a great piece.
“Be What You Are” reverts back to the classic; an acoustic guitar and multi-tracked harmonies. The keyboard adds slight accompaniment, which is all that is called for. It’s a very organic, folksy track, and of course, one can’t deny that influence of middle period Beatles here, though it’s certainly not a mere plagiarism. “What Pushed Us Together” turns up the electricity again, and it’s another intelligently crafted pop/rock tune. The synthesizer here (and in other places I suppose) is vaguely reminiscent to its usage in The Who’s groundbreaking “Babe O’Riley.” It’s a fine album closer.
Three Fact Fader is an impressive sophomore effort. Engineers have created a winning combination of English pop/rock. Their harmonies (and vocals in general) are very involving, and their skill of adding just the right additions to the base construction is worthy of applause. There are plenty of unexpected sounds that add flair to conventional instruments, but it’s very accessible overall. They put great influences to good use, and Three Fact Fader is recommended to any of them.