"A Fool's Paradise" (Album, 2010)
It’s been a long time between releases from Steve Bellamy’s constantly evolving project, the last album being 2006’s You’re Not Alone. According to folklore and Guinness adverts, good things come to those who wait. And that’s been reaffirmed with A Fool’s Paradise.
Sprawling across a sometimes epic fourteen tracks, it’s possible to see this fourth studio album as everything that Greenhaus has been working towards since their first release back in the late 90s. Indeed, the titular A Fool’s Paradise (penned exclusively by Phoenix J) is almost the definitive contemporary Greenhaus song and upon hearing it either for the first or umpteenth time, it’s self-evident why it was chosen for the title. It’s also possibly the best showcase for Phoenix J’s vocals which soar here (whilst elsewhere they sometimes sound a little limited in range). Anthony Neale, who has been contributing male vocals (and co-writing) for a number of years, continues the tradition well on The Sound of Peace (with its lyrics about the “…military industrial police state”) and the contrast to the lightness of Phoenix J’s female voice adds another dimension to this multi-faceted band.
For no immediately obvious reason, the album features a couple of remixes from the previous album You’re Not Alone including the title track and Shoot The Messenger. Not a wise decision to include these in my view as it could be interpreted as an attempt at shoring up an otherwise mediocre album – which would be wrong. A Fool’s Paradise is better than that and doesn’t need such ‘value-added’ gimmicks. The immediacy of many tracks is evidence that Bellamy & Co’s songwriting has reached maturity. Now, it may be that these songs took the full past four years to conceive, write, perform, record, tweak, engineer and master but, in spite of a multi-layered stylistic approach that sounds very time-consuming, many tracks create the impression that writing them was a naturally straightforward (if not effortless) experience. Least effective are the rockier element, such as on In The Heart of The City, but then there are a smattering of excellent instrumentals (see the trip-hopping Optical in particular) that are mightily impressive and reset any unbalance.
I imagine that if Bellamy (heaven forbid) never produced another album that he would manage to rest at ease knowing that he’s gotten about as close to releasing his full potential as has been possible to date. Nevertheless, there should be many willing him on to that ultimate goal. He’s certainly got my backing to keep at it. 7/10
Rob Dyer (January 2011)
"Instrumental" (Album, 2010) !DSO Recommended!
It’s a weird world we live in when an album as good as this is doesn’t get a ‘proper’ release. Not sure if that’s because Greenhaus thought it just wasn’t worth trying to get attention for this via a distribution channel that could get this into physical and online retailers – anticipating apathy or if they did try and gave up through lack of interest. It has been available directly from the band at their gigs during the tail end of 2010. The important thing is that you, dear reader and connoisseur of quality music, can get your hands on it via the official Greenhaus website.
There's lots of variety and influences and differing music genres (ambient, soundtrack, Celtic, world music, jazz, dub, etc.) but it firmly holds together never sounding like a disparate cobbling together. Quite an achievement in pulling all those threads together. Some of this, Milano in particular, reminds me of Jon Black (both his solo and work with Wave and BIOsonic). There’s a steady rhythm to it all but a desire not to fall into the trap of convention means there are a lot of unexpected breaks, pauses and shifts both in tone and tempo within individual tracks. This won’t be to everyone’s liking, but for some (me included) there's much to get excited about here. 8/10
Rob Dyer (January 2011)
"You're Not Alone" (Album, 2006)
The opening title track is the perfect summation of this fourth Greenhaus album. Its ambitious and melodic and a long way from those early techno 12"s they were once so fond of, but (and I surprise even myself when I say this) it often just sounds bland. The band, ostensibly songwriter Steve Bellamy for he is the only remaining original member, has been going through a constant evolution since its first longer player. Up until now I've always managed to be carried by their developing sound for no matter how much it changed, and each album demonstrates a marked difference each time it appears, their style has always been into new and interesting territory that fortunately matched my own tastes. It was like having an act listen to your inner thoughts (or website reviews!) and responding organically to them.
This latest incarnation seems to want to ape bands like Massive Attack or Kosheen. It's a reasonable enough imitation but that's what it sounds like - an imitation. Bellamy's talents are certainly broad and newcomers not familiar with the band's back catalogue or with a taste for the aforementioned artists may find this more rewarding than I do. Good for them. I'm not going to diss this as it's pointless to when it isn't something you care about. And that's perhaps the most surprising response for me to this. You could say I was passionate about their last album, 2003's Another Life, which in hindsight now seems like the perfect balance between Greenhaus' formative electronic years and Bellamy's ever greater aspirations. Conversely, this feels like it has overstretched itself (and in doing so has lost so many of Bellamy's distinctive qualities) and could signal a decline in my interest, or maybe, its only a temporary diversion. We'll just have to wait and see - but it doesn't feel that way. 6/10
Rob Dyer (January 2008)
"Another Life" (Album, 2003) !DSO Recommended!
I've always had plenty of time for Greenhaus. They started off producing simple but dark club techno and did that very well. They then progressed towards spacerock territory after adding guitars to the sound and did that even better. Now they've taken a quantum leap forward and the results are mightily impressive. This is full of fine songwriting that demonstrates that Greenhaus truly deserve to rise to wider public acclaim.
Superb tracks like Trigger about the Hiroshima bomb are as cleverly structured as they are moving. There's a bunch of well-chosen guest vocalists too: Liz Green (Swarf), Roi Robertson (Mechanical Cabaret) and Sandrine Gouriou (Seize) all contribute. These and the inclusion of further guest lead female vocalist, Lahannya, really help the Greenhaus sound step firmly into the mainstream. There's a cover of The Cure's Plainsong that is simply terrific, while One Day Closer continues the band's love affair with Joy Division.
This is overtly commercial, in the Rhys Fulber sense of commercial, in that it retains a distinctive style all of its own and yet has a decidedly accessible quality, but all the time retaining credibility. This really ought to see Greenhaus achieve far greater recognition and well-deserved professional success. It's hard to single out favourite tracks as the whole thing is that consistently strong. This is a great album - simple as that. Go and buy it. 8/10
Rob Dyer (November 2003)
Album number two for these rising stars of the dark techno scene. Only, with The Unmistakable Sound of Sloth, that label now seems largely redundant. For although they haven't abandoned their dark beats entirely, this release moves closer to the almost psychedelic space occupied by the likes of Spiritualised, Acceleradeck, or any number of bands on the Enraptured label. And this is a good thing, because choosing to go down a route that is less reliant on straightfoward (if addictive) beats means that Greenhaus' songwriting ability gets the chance to spread its wings.
Those who like their techno straight up will find this a radical departure. Others more open-minded should respond to this in droves. There's more guitar than before but it's of the wash of reverb kind rather than sad rock posturing. There's some great piano moments too. But tech heads shouldn't panic. There are still some terrific beats (with some nifty drum programming) - see Nova and More Life. Greenhaus' version of Joy Division's Transmission is included too, although this album version pales into insignificance compared to its live equivalent. There are a couple of very short tracks that have great ideas but are not fully developed and feel rushed, but it's a bit of a struggle to find the weak spots. Greenhaus have really gone out on a limb with this album and haven't let preconceptions of how they're 'supposed' to sound hamper their songwriting. I look forward to hearing this stuff live 7/10
Rob Dyer (April 2002)
Official Greenhaus website: http://www.greenhaus.co.uk