Land Observations – The Grand Tour

Land Observations - The Grand Tour

Land Observations – The Grand Tour

James Brooks’ first album as Land Observations – 2012’s Roman Roads IV – XI – was a quiet revelation with its inventive melding of minimalism and pyschogeography.  In approaching this sequel, Brooks has more challenges and expectations to meet in retaining the balmy intimacy of his layered solo electric guitar soundscapes whilst moving the one-man project forwards.  Although The Grand Tour may initially appear to be missing the same spine-tingling impact of its sublime predecessor it does reveal itself, after some concentrated airing, as a low-key pleasure in its own right.

Swapping the inspiration of Roman highways for the historical European rites of passage road trip also known as the The Grand Tour, this second Land Observations LP – written in London and recorded in a friend’s home studio overlooking the Bavarian Alps – is again driven by tacit themes of travel, history and geography.  Conceptualism aside, Brooks once more adheres to his self-restricting one electric guitar set-up in tandem with bending and thickening his sound meticulously.  Many of the same musical influences are still identifiable – with the likes of Neu!, Spacemen 3, The Durutti Column, Brokeback and Young Marble Giants remaining touchstones – but there is also a greater self-defined Land Observations vision solidifying throughout the record.

Hence, for the opening “On Leaving The Kingdom For The Well-Tempered Continent” the motorik throb of Roman Roads is revisited alongside eerie treated guitar gradations and subterranean low-end tones coming into the mix.  For the ensuing “Flatlands And The Flemish Roads” the meshes of bass-like throbbing are even more pronounced whilst the top-end adds synth-imitating layers before bleeding into the somnolent early-Spiritualized-indebted “From The Heights Of The Simplon Pass.”  By the mid-point of “Nice To Turin” the pace picks up a tad as more open and loose guitar lines run in parallel with tighter rhythmic beds, ahead of decelerating into the plucked and lengthened shapes of “Ode To Viennese Streets.”  With “The Brenner Pass” the Germanic grooves reoccur prior to “Walking The Warm Colonnades” exploring slow-motion early-Tortoise-meets-Brian Eno atmospherics.  On reaching the mid-tempo final destination point of “Return To Ravenna” Brooks draws together many of album’s recurring motifs – as well as adding some drone-shaped counterpoints – to signpost you right back to the beginning of The Grand Tour, to close its hypnotic self-contained sonic loop.

Ultimately, trying to properly dissect and describe a record that digs deep whilst remaining rooted in the same spot is close to impossible.  Yet, it’s hard not wanting to unpick the elusive ingenuity of The Grand Tour, to seek out what makes it tick so intricately and warmly.  Putting analytical angst aside though, in short this is another tranquil and refreshing oasis on the compelling Land Observations journey.