Lovers of instrumental rock are a rare breed, but they know who they are and this record is for them. It’s also sure to appeal to a subset of fans of the band Echo & the Bunnymen, as Glide is actually a nom de instrument for Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant, who wrote, performed, produced, and tracked pretty much the entire album (yes, at home). Astonishingly, Curvature of the Earth doesn’t sound like a self-indulgent demo. That’s not to say it’s never self-indulgent–what solo instrumental project isn’t? — but it’s the rare track that feels overlong or shy of musical ideas, and the whole thing comes off sounding extremely professional, from its well-balanced mixes to its ear-candy guitar and synth textures.
And texture, as it happens, is a big part of Glide’s world. Described by Sergeant as an opportunity to explore “ambient, psychedelic, progressive, glam, experimental, noise, and all points between”, Glide works from a multitude of samples and snippets of sound and music cleverly woven into something that’s not just musically coherent but engaging and quite often invigorating as well. Sergeant proves himself a masterful player and arranger, someone whose considerable talents are ripe for tapping by any number of young or not-so-young musicians.
“A Golden Dawn” sets us on course with an invocation of Echo’s “Killing Moon” that quickly veers into a thicket of buzzing guitars and dancing, piano-like keys, breaking momentarily for interludes of timpani and Dobro. On “Spirit” and elsewhere, Sergeant laces the music with Middle Eastern inflections and atmospheric washes to convey a sense of exotic mysticism. The last of the three seamlessly fused pieces that open the album, “In Blue Sunlight”, layers everything from digitally delayed low toms to distant speaking voices, burbling synthesizer effects, would-be strings, and the wiry, heavy-gauge guitar playing that makes Sergeant’s sound so distinctive.
Despite the album’s preponderance of electric and acoustic six-strings, Curvature is explicitly not a “guitar record” or a thinly disguised vehicle for wanking. The disc is far spacier and more electronic than its pastoral trappings imply, but the music radiates a quiet human warmth even at its most bloopy and zippy. The balance of guitar and keyboard here is downright refreshing, in fact; it’s long astonished me that more artists haven’t mined the potential for guitar-synth interplay suggested by the best music from Ozric Tentacles or the very early days of the Cars, Ultravox, and INXS.
Unlike Ozric’s albums, most of the songs here are structured as songs rather than free-form jams, and Sergeant’s wife Paula contributes a single-line chorus to the Kraftwerk-esque “I Have Seen the Sunlight”. Sergeant gets a groove going on two cuts, the frenetic “Iggy & Ziggy” and “Chopped Hog”, the latter being the closest thing here to a bar jam (except of course, in its quiet, meandering outro, a feature common to several songs). “Kraken”, named for a legendary giant sea creature, is appropriately massive. A pounding snare batters the piece forward as mournful guitars flare amid imitation dulcimer, pattering percussion, and siren-like guitar loops. Certain elements cascade, wave-like, while others appear and disappear, as if bobbing in a rolling sea.
At its worst, Curvature of the Earth feels thematically underdeveloped, as in the fun but slightly gimmicky title track or “Expo 68”, which dives for the cover of a quick fade after exhausting its carefree refrain. At best, though–which is most of the time–Glide takes us on a wild ride through creative zones known only to one of new wave’s more innovative musicians, pointing the way for other artists intent on pioneering the still-desolate frontier between non-dance electronica and non-frat rock.