Review: Volume Contrast Brilliance, 10th Anniversary BIMM Album

Apologies if you don’t use Spotify, but their play button was the most convenient way for me to embed tracks for this post.

Having recently completed a degree at BIMM, I remember that appearing on the BIMM album could be a contentious issue. On the one hand, you gain the recognition, and maybe some added confidence in your work, having passed through the screening process for demo submissions and been deemed worthy. You gain the pre-production with tutors, the recording and, seemingly at worst, a free recording of one of your songs. On the other hand, it does carry a reputation, deserving or not, as selling out to the man, letting the college tell you how to write and any listener will hear the recordings through the filter of their opinion of the institute.

As I don’t hold any grudges myself against good old BIMM, I feel it would be unfair to completely neglect to mention here the tight budget and time restrictions placed on the album.

So, I’ve tried to be as subjective as I can, but my own experience studying at BIMM was a positive one, and it seemed right to mention that at the start of this review.

“You gave it all for the recognition, you gave it all for the rock n roll.”

Wisely picked to open the album, Spit Shake Sisters kick it all off with a whoop, a hi-hat count and a fill round the drums that flows into the gratifying groove that follows. Almost immediately, the band play with the underlying tempo, suddenly switching to a heavily accented offbeat that jars quite satisfactorily with the cowbell groove that plays through the opening. The guitar work is almost pure virulent riffs, and the band’s attitude almost seeps from the speakers as the song plays.

The chorus lyric could have come straight from the reincarnation of Detroit garage rock, smelling of motor oil and positively wallowing in its own nihilism. “I am a man of no releejon / I believe in death and UFOs.” After being drawn in by the infectious guitar riff, the song sells itself with a relentless rhythm, pounding into your subconscious until the temporary move towards the accented offbeat provides fleeting relief.

“That’s the sound of you.”

Although tranquil, to call Face in Parallel, the third track, “ambient” would be to understate it’s underlying power. It sounds like the sounds of a rock band caught in a twister of 1s and 0s, as the sounds of the band swirl together in the production, occasionally hinting at the tasks they would normally carry out. With the only clear image available one of angelic vocals, kept safe in the eye of the storm, your ear is drawn to it instantly, clinging to the last remnant of the physical. The drums, at first cutting through with some cleanly defined flams across the rims, eventually succumb to the flowing otherness of the production, and are swept up in the maelstrom of synthesised serenity.

The song is suffused with implied potential energy, running throughout the gentle tides of synth pads and sparse instrumentation, drawing from the determined tonality at the core of the vocal. The lyrics are indistinct, partially obscurred by the velvety timbre of her voice, and the breathy delivery, and partly by the production of the other instruments. The effect feels like her calling to us from across a vast cosmic maelstrom, a clusterfuck of colours, textures, light and dark.

After another expansive chorus, the song focuses suddenly, and the drums return to the sounds of a traditional kit, the harsher attack of stick on metal embodying the world that the song has lead us so far away from by this point. To contrast, the vocals swirl up into the mix, almost disappearing completely and becoming part of the maelstrom. A few frantic, final bars bring it to a close with the vocal and a sound dangerously close to feedback left to make one final impression.

“It isn’t what you struggle for or what you earn/ It’s just you, and the people you screw.”

Big Fish, by Rising Tide. If there’s a perfect driving track on this record, this is it. The essence of the arrangement spells out the feeling of circular motion, where each phrase feels like another rotation and each section is another mile towards our destination. Along the way, we’ll end up in crappy dives chatting to strange locals, as the bass guitar and drum groove on the toms is the only support the vocal gets, and the motivation to continue suddenly lapses. Then, with a rebel yell, the song throws its fist in the air, screaming desperate motivation to the weary crusaders.

While you listen, you can hear the emotions of the wronged coming out. The whole thing sounds like the perfect expressions of the disappointed, unimpressed by another’s pretensions.

The slight dramatic tension on the vocal (about 2:40) bends the melody away from the rut of authenticity it occupies and creates some really interesting bars, just when it becomes almost predictable. The song would work without, but is much better off with them. Well performed and turbulent, there’s a gritty quality to the whole record that stops the more repetitive sections from outstaying their welcome.

Everyone responds to different aspects of music. Some of us are drawn to a song by its musical aspects. These could be novel instrumentation, experimental harmony or maybe a well-realised performance encapsulating a genre. Other people immediately latch onto lyrics, or the subcultural aspects of a band’s style and antics, and these last two often compliment one another.

“Two people think alike, and keep a house as man and wife.”

Suddenly, We Live Together, by New Palace Talkies came on. Almost immediately, it provides a complete kaleidoscope of texture and shape for me. Completely ignoring the lyrical content on a first listen, and allowing instead the general flow of the music to wash over you provides the single most sublime moment on this album. Other critics might hear too much for one song, and the intellect-led brain will find some moments of the track difficult to latch onto and follow succinctly. If this is you, try instead to allow yourself to intuitively listen to the song, mentally rising above the details to consider the whole. The underlying zaniness sounds like this could be rock music straight from Terry Pratchett’s discworld, soundtracking the hustle and bustle of Ankh Morpork.

Minimalistic, repetitive parts in the introduction gradually expand, buoyed by the support of deep woodwind, billowing out into an eternally engaging arrangement. The key attraction of minimalist music is the childlike attitude it invites in the listener, and the repetition of the interlocking parts causes a psychological regression, lulling you into submitting yourself to the harmony’s delicate repetitive security.

Ultimately, the album should be taken for what it is. University students, who should be confidently pushing forwards, experimenting like no one on the outside has the luxury to. Where an original sound is not fully realised, confident mimicry ensures there are few truly dull moments. Some songs were perhaps let down more by the time restrictions and limited resources more then any lack of talent. I am inclined to be more then a little generous to the artists who appear here, having been one of them not so long ago. Although, throughout the whole three years I studied at the institute, I never submitted a demo and never appeared on the album myself.

Check out the full album here:

Also, check out this book, which I was thoroughly enjoying reading at the same time as writing this post.

The People’s Music – Ian MacDonald