The Blind Taste Test is where one writer gives an album they love to another writer who has never heard it before. This time, James Spearing prescribes 2008’s Silent Movie, the only release from UK duo Quiet Village, to Tom Burrows.
When I suggested this album to you Tom, I described it as ‘Since I Left You adjacent’. No it’s not The Avalanches and neither is it as consistently good as their debut, but this album definitely inhabits the same space. So I am guilty of using the Avalanches comparison to entice you, but do so in good faith with a genuine belief that you will like this album. I know next to nothing about Quiet Village or how they made this music. What I do know is that they made the sound of summer and distilled it into 11 dreamy songs, peaking with ‘Pillow Talk’, ‘Too High To Move’ and ‘Free Rider’. As you might expect from an album with the word ‘movie’ in the title, there is a cinematic quality too, another thing I think it shares with Since I Left You. The brief heatwave may now be over, but there is plenty more summer to be filled with the sunny sounds of Silent Movie. Make yourself a cocktail with a little umbrella in it, relax and enjoy.James
Well James, I’m intrigued. This sounds a lot like the setup for the last one of these we did. Another band that was buzzed about in the moment, but then disappeared without a trace as if trapped in a moment in time – like an abandoned iTunes library.
The opening notes of ‘Victoria’s Secret’ don’t just sound Since I Left You adjacent – they sound like Since I Left You. Like The Avalanches’ classic, the sound of the sea and the soaring strings instantly make me feel like I’m on holiday and it is impossible not to get caught up in the romance of it all. Part of the main appeal of The Avalanches is how their music has a nostalgic quality you can’t quite place. And this certainly has that. The seagull calls and the faint vocals ground this song somewhere. But where that place is, I have no idea. What a glorious intro.
‘Circus of Horror’ starts with a crunchy guitar riff which sounds almost like a SAULT song. And here are those strings again. I’m pretty basic deep down: put cinematic strings on a song and I’ll probably love it. The snatches of vocal harmonies remind me of J Dilla’s Donuts – yet another Since I Left You-esque album we’ve discussed previously in this feature. And the lovely harmonies are there for ‘Free Rider’ as well. These ones sound like they belong to a rendition of ‘A Horse With No Name’, something I’m sure is alluded to in the title. The breakbeats are a nice addition, and then it abruptly switches to a jagged acoustic guitar. The excerpts of laughter in the background are again, very Avalanches. And again, it’s great.
The piano that starts ‘Too High To Move’ ventures into the realm of disco which is pleasing to my ears. It occurs to me that I’m not really getting the sense of a theme here, but then some vocals appear. The female singer tells us a story about a no-good man who leaves his partner before coming crawling back when she makes it rich. The casual storytelling on top of such a luxurious instrumental is a joy to behold. Unlike any Avalanches song, it’s over 6 minutes long, but I don’t mind at all.
‘Pacific Rhythm’ sounds like this ‘Silent Movie’ has moved to an exotic location with its bossa nova beat coming to the forefront. The prominence of strings once again is great, and this time there are some Daft Punk-esque vocoder-enhanced vocals. This adds an element of surprise to a song which in all honesty feels like it could be shorter – I feel like I’ve got the gist long before it finishes.
As ‘Broken Promises’ opens with another swell of strings, I reflect that this really does sound like a film soundtrack. I feel like I’m driving along the winding roads of the Amalfi Coast, bathed in sunshine. The song doesn’t really reflect the negativity of its title until a melancholic piano comes in. This brings to mind Chromatics’ 2012 album Kill For Love, another record that is framed like a film soundtrack. But this is only for a moment, before those gorgeous string swells come back in. This is one of my highlights so far.
‘Pillow Talk’ begins with some enchanting guitar work. ‘Swell’ is a word that I keep using, but the music really does feel all-encompassing in its beauty at times. On this song for instance, the riffs are so considered, there’s the gentle crackle of played vinyl, and a soaring sound akin to a plane taking off rises and fades. We’re in the realm of pure 1980s here. I’m aware I still have no idea what the theme of this record is, but who cares when it sounds like this.
Events take a more urgent turn with the dramatic keys and building drums of ‘Can’t Be Beat’. I catch a brief vocal sample of a man starting a sentence and then vanishing before the spirit of Giorgio Moroder is evoked through some prominent synths. This is just great, and the more I think about it, this album really does remind me of that Chromatics one. If you haven’t heard that James, let’s do another one of these so we can continue saying, “this is great, have you heard this?” until the end of time.
‘Gold Rush’ also starts with suspenseful drums and a building bassline. It suggests we’re approaching the denouement of this film. Does it matter that I can’t even pretend I know what it’s about? I look at the artwork again and I’m none the wiser. Some vocals emerge but I can’t really make out what they’re saying. This is the first one I’m a bit nonplussed by. It’s over 5 minutes long again, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. And this makes me consider the pacing. This album is a lot more ‘considered’ than The Avalanches and certainly Dilla in its longer individual pieces of music. But I think that frenetic energy contributes to the appeal of those records. The fleeting and ever-changing nature of the music is thrilling, and on occasion I could have done with that change of pace on Silent Movie.
‘Singing Sand’, like the title, certainly evokes the desert. In my mind there’s a dusk setting, people on horseback, and a location approaching. I think this is what Quiet Village wanted in 2008, the listener projecting movie images onto these sonic landscapes. It has this swirling ambient sound in the background, the gentle patter of drums and flourishes of piano that appear and then fade away. It’s certainly a cinematic construction, but it’s not my favourite here.
And then those birds from the intro are back as the guitars of ‘Keep On Rolling’ begin. But unlike the widescreen scope of some of the earlier songs, this sounds like the ending of a romcom. The beach wedding of your mid-noughties Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston romp. It’s quite a weird step change actually. This album has been building to this? Those searching for a profound climax (me) have found a message that says “just keep on rolling, eh guys”. It’s a shame that they’ve ended on the weakest track. Indeed, like many a Hollywood blockbuster, the album did kind of fizzle out in the third act.
But for two thirds it was gripping and immersive, like all the best films are. There are plenty of songs here that I want to dive straight back in to enjoy again – particularly the ‘Broken Promises’, ‘Pillow Talk’ and ‘Can’t Be Beat’ treble, and the earlier cuts you picked out in your intro. Once again, the cinematic/sample-based/escapist album has delivered. Your genuine belief in my enjoyment was well placed, James. I think I can see the sun peeking out again.
Words by Tom Burrows