Release Date: Jul 29, 2014
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock
Do the terms ‘sound-art’ and ‘concept album’ make you wince? That might be about to change. If anyone has the power to allay any fear or suspicion surrounding these forms of audio artistry, it’s Land Observations. The Grand Tour is the second LP from Land Observations, the current moniker of artist and musician James Brooks. The previous album, Roman Roads IV -XI, centres around – guess what ? - the history and geography of Roman Roads.
Sometimes, all it takes is one idea. One notion, rigorously explored and thoughtfully expanded upon, that can inform and define an artist’s work in a lasting way. It’s been particularly noticeable in the realm of modern art, whether in Piet Mondrian’s merging of gridlines and primary colours, Cy Twombly’s scrawled, looping, running depictions of nature or Paul Klee’s immersion in abstraction.
While the name Land Observations captures the broad strokes of James Brooks' geographically inspired music, it's more passive than his approach actually is. The former Appliance member practiced a remarkably engaged kind of observing on his acclaimed debut, Roman Roads IV-XI, which lived up to its ancient yet timeless inspiration in its deceptive simplicity. By skillfully layering guitars with hints of motorik rhythms, Brooks encompassed post-rock, ambient, and Krautrock so seamlessly that it belied the effort behind the music.
Land Observations is the solo project of James Brooks, formerly of the excellent and underrated group, Appliance. The Grand Tour is an album of hypnotic, precisely-rendered electric guitar pieces that are carefully constructed with clean, chiming, repetitive rhythms and layered, humming, notes. It follows the path of his 2012 release Roman Roads and retains structural traces of his earlier band.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, well-to-do young men would often embark on the Grand Tour, an educational, leisurely journey through Europe’s centres of art and culture. On ‘The Grand Tour’, Land Observations’ James Brooks – formerly of turn-of-the-millennium, John Peel-approved motorik merchants Appliance – packs his guitar and passport and reimagines the transcontinental adventure in eight gently paced instrumentals. Recorded with only a guitar in an Alpine hideout, Brooks’ compositions are intimate and simple, overlaying cyclical patterns with a limited palette of effects.
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.