Things are not what they seem…
Having just covered the very recent re-release of Tenek’s EP2 at TEC, it’s a welcome surprise to see yet more material spouting from the archives of the the electronica duo that is Geoff Pinckney and Peter Steer. This time, they’ve done things slightly differently, however. Celebrating the 5th anniversary of 2015’s highly acclaimed Smoke and Mirrors album, the duo has opted to release an all instrumental version of the original standout record.
An obvious point with this album, is a work that is massively characterised by some of the most exceptional and catchy bass playing you’ll ever hear in this genre. It gives a real sense of fluid movement. And not only that, it takes on all forms, with variation throughout, and in some cases occupying centre stage. It would appear that in short, Smoke and Mirrors is all about the groove – and if you didn’t think bass could be so interesting, then I urge you to take a listen. Much like everything I’ve encountered by Tenek, the quality of sound and production is superior to many, and in the case of this particular album, placement of some of those key, and indeed catchy basslines, are perfectly positioned within the mix – delivering maximum punch, so to speak. It’s a pure listening pleasure.
In its virtuous instrumental form, Smoke and Mirrors is a very different vehicle to the one that’s been heard previously. The eleven weighty tracks loan themselves to supernatural soundtrack – one that journeys to somewhere dark, decadent and is sometimes racy. It’s content, while being varied, offers synergies in various energetic forces. Alongside the aforementioned grooves, there are daring elements to the guitars, that blend seamlessly to the expressive and melodic strengths that emanate from the synths, and not least, there’s a great natural drum sound that contributes nicely to knitting the whole soundtrack experience together. It isn’t really a track by track album – least not in this format, more so, it’s a heightened listening experience, the individual tracks acting as stop-off points, and showcasing different themes, directions, and moods.
Opener ‘Everything Lost’ – for me, a standout track, has an atmospheric introduction, that very much conjures memories of the band Japan. There’s a simplistic oriental sounding rhythm that styles the introduction with lashings of atmosphere, before we get to a very immediate bassline that is immensely catchy, while being crisp and precise. There are subtle embellishments, such as the addition of dark sound bites, and a breakout point before an urgent bass run that really does whack a punch. Synth washes shower everything with a majestic creativity. Throughout the album, the unique blend of guitars against synths features heavily, in all sorts of guises, of course. ‘Fear for Nothing,’ with its slap back bass drive, provides a reminder to Billy Currie-era 90s Ultravox – particularly with the guitar blends and a higher register vocal-like synth that reaches out and beyond.
‘Another Day’, presents guitar rhythms that at given points, are a nod to ‘The Fixx.’ There’s some precise arpeggios on the guitar, blended with tremolo like effects, fuzzy synth bass and a fully fleshed out synth melody that’s laid back while also being big on impact.
‘What Kind of Friend’ has a modern-day feel in part. We’re hit with a memorable riff that kicks in; a catchy guitar adding plenty of scratchy grit against an existing hard driven anthemic type vibe. Punchy bass is prominent once again, as are chirpy melodic synths and contemporary beats which all add to the textural scheme.
‘Blue Man’ offers an easy pace against which to set a vibrant electro-piano. It succeeds at establishing different textures with chimes and washes of synth pushing into all corners and reaching afar, set against organic sounding drums. ‘Headlights’ leads to heavy over driven bass that pushes towards the vibrant and pacey, while prominent guitars rock things up significantly and drums add muscle. The synths that blend against the harder edges of power guitar and drums, are emotive and add masses of expression.
‘Sunlight’ offers juxtaposition in that it feels nocturnal in character while also offering a steady laid-back route towards a new dawn – symbolising light-dark character. It has a decadent personality – dance driven bullet like beats that form a shimmery sun dance, and synths that are hard edged and industrial sounding; full of expression and evocative in nature. More dark mystery is evident in ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ with yet another bassline that is reminiscent of Japan and gives that sense of graceful flow, while energetic rhythms drive to the outro. If you want to feel invigorated, then check in on ‘Imitation of Life’ – another uplifting composition. A rise to triumph, with a modern edge and an organic bass sound – you can feel every string vibrate here.
Tenek, while being very current, have always held a distinct musicality that allows them to align with many of the notable 80s era synth pop artists – evident in part, in this very body of work. But Tenek also push the boundaries and combine many more aspects into their music, providing a good balance between classic drivers, modern tech-driven creativity, a daring approach to raw guitars in the electro environment and in the case of the Smoke and Mirrors album, a very rhythmic aspect to the music, all stacking up to equal a duo that is truly original. The album itself, in instrumental form, is all about layers and contrasts, with the heart of the compositions stripped bare and exposed to all elements. And it serves them well. The space that has been created by the instrumental treatment, has snatched on the opportunity to showcase all of the intricate details that form the creative template – driving forward its very essence of diverse blends and trademark production qualities. There’s lots of versatility and contrasting personalities within the songs themselves – a real assorted blend that forges a unique path.
Smoke and Mirrors in instrumental format, is a lively and alternative take on a classic album, seasoned with perfectly polished washes of musicality.
Smoke and Mirrors is out today via Bandcamp.