One Infinite Loop
Deep in the history of post-rock rests the name and reputation of the English trio, Appliance. On Roman Roads IV–XI, Land Observations—an offshoot project of Appliance’s leader, James Brooks—aims to revisit the motorik music that once inspired his earlier group, but with a touch so light it threatens to make the work ignorable. It’s a seismic shift in mentality and delivery, but is the earthquake you can’t feel still an earthquake?
Appliance’s early singles and sessions invoked the sensibilities of post-punk and drone, but their albums released from 1999 to 2002 contained much more complex material. While his day job project sits semipermanently on the shelf, Brooks wants to use the Land Observations moniker for music fed by his surroundings, or by study of a particular environment.
As the title of Roman Roads implies, Brooks found inspiration in the highway system developed by the Roman Empire, including roads still used in countries like Italy and England. He lived near some, traveled others, researched still more, before recording the album in Krautrock ground zero, Berlin. That’s an awful lot of work for an album that sounds so confoundingly basic.
Brooks’ idea of synthesized pastoral music hints at true entertainment à la The xx (“Via Flaminia”) and Dead Can Dance (“Battle of Watling Street”), but those hints are brief. His simple triggers get arranged into minimalist mantras that follow the letter of motorik law but have little if any spirit. Roman Roads sounds for the most part like music meant to be intros or interludes, rubber-stamped for three to five minutes at a time.
Robert Fripp, Pat Metheny, Michael Hedges, Bill Frisell—we could conscript an army of guitarists who have had the world at their pedal-pushing feet. There’s exactly one Roman Roads song with any momentum: “Appian Way,” with some progression in the layered loops and the only unique guitar line on the album. Brooks’ pedigree should suggest otherwise. Land Observations’ music isn’t unpleasant, but only if it felt like it was making a musical point would it be pleasing.