Arguably the unsungiest of unsung heroes here in the drizzly ol’ UK, Archive have lived a long, at times tumultuous (but always magical) life. Beginning in the fuzzy Britpop days of ‘94, Archive traipsed through the Bristol Sound and emerged wielding electronica, trip-hop and classical tendencies, these days moving further away from the route trodden by Portishead and Massive Attack, preferring to trundle towards where psych meets rock. The (currently) 12-piece collective have always undertaken impressive, adventurous projects, and their latest caper plonks them once more into the realms of the OST – only this time, they made the film too (which was part of the official selection for Sundance London).
By the looks of the trailer, it’s going to trounce Lana Del Rey’s Tropico and Kanye West’s Runaway. Axiom – the film – is shot in black and white, and sees Archive indulge their dystopian fantasies, crafting something that looks like it’d slot quite nicely next to 1984 and V For Vendetta on a DVD rack. Truthfully, we’ve not seen the film, so judging the soundtrack on that basis is a pretty tall order. So, instead, we can look at it from the perspective of it being the next standalone record in Archive’s canon. It’s handy that it works pretty well sans visuals, really.
Straight off the bat, it’s a wildly cinematic affair. Dawning similarly to the recent Depeche Record, Axiom – the album – begins with a soulful, elegiac electronic pop-soul ballad. Depeche Mode had “Welcome To My World”, and Archive present us with “Distorted Angels”. It’s honestly a great track, not too off-kilter, and there’s an argument to be made for it being just an intense Top 40 pop song – that melody is just superb, and one of the best pop vocal lines of the year. It’s operatic, dramatic, climactic and all-manner of adjectives that mean ‘big’ and end in -ic.
Following swiftly on, but ditching the chart-aimed vibe, is “Axiom”. Church bells galore and rumbly-belly synth drones steer it towards ‘80s goth, but there’s some classic Archive dance prowess on show too, about five minutes into the ten minute behemoth. Nothing you’d cut shapes to on the dancefloor, but it’s definitely got a vibrant pulse.
“Baptism” unfortunately fumbles, disrupting the pace and atmosphere that Archive have so precisely sculpted. The stadium vocals and subtle post-trance aren’t a perfect gel (maybe that’s the point, and perhaps it’d be more poignant in the context of the film), and it just jars against the lengthy sprawl that cam before. Maybe with less gusto, it would all slip into place. With the next ditties, they claw back the landscapes they conjured at the outset : “Shiver” recaptures that pop essence, and the female vocals that infuse brittle paean “The Noise Of Flames Crashing” are a great timbre alteration. They get back to the pinnacle eventually.
As mentioned earlier, it’s tough to critique a soundtrack minus the integral visual aspect. Knowing the story and the characters of Axiom may help give the soundtrack added depth, but then again, it might not. Withdrawn from the context, Axiom is a fine record. There are some slightly unexpected, elaborate pop deviations that are truly exhilarating listens, and there are sweeping electronic soundscapes that are Archive’s more traditional fare. It’s a nice spread, and they dip into familiar zones and new territory. All in all, the boxes couldn’t be more checked.
The new album ‘Axiom’, is out 26th May. Just to reiterate, “Distorted Angels” is fantastic.