On their last couple albums Landing seemed to be walking a tightrope between gentle, atmospheric pop songwriting and out-there, improvised, psychedelic space jams. For Brocade they’ve cut that tightrope down, fallen from the perch, and gone off floating through the galaxies. The album’s cover art depicts the desert-like landscape of some imaginary planet, and through the music the band seems determined to take us there.
The untethered nature of Brocade shouldn’t be considered unusual for the Connecticut-based band. Previous releases like the 2002 EP Fade In/Fade Out were more soundscape than song, and every album has been right on that line. 2003’s Passages Through tilted towards song, while 2004’s Sphere tried to keep the songs airbound. Following after a break was taken from the band by a key founding member, causing a hiatus and then a regrouping with a new member, Brocade does feel like some kind of turning point, a new start. And it sounds that way too. It’s not a departure so much as a refinement, with extra focus paid on taking the music in one direction: to space.
After a crunching noise that represents Landing breaking free from the ground, Brocade begins with “Loft”, a Krautrock-inspired groove that does indeed deliver the feeling of lifting us up towards the heavens. It’s a tight jam mostly between synthesizers and guitars. It’s spacey, futuristic — in the way that bubbling synthesizers always sound futuristic, and inevitably given the Neu!-in-space vibe, quite reminiscent of Stereolab. But it’s also extremely compelling: much more driven and determined in its otherworldliness than anything Landing has given us before. With that level of focus Landing set the tone for Brocade. With five songs total, in the span of 54 minutes, the album is an epic of compactness, even as the expanse of its atmosphere feels infinite.
A brocade is “a heavy fabric interwoven with a rich, raised design.” Brocade feels rich in design, with five songs that are quite different yet speak the same language, are built of the same cloth. The second track, “Yon”, lopes along like a slowly turning sphere. One repeating melody glides along with waves of tones thriving underneath it. They glimmer, slide, and echo - a tapestry woven from air and soundwaves. “Spiral Arms” is related in design but more open and meandering. It’s like a maze of repeating circles, lead by a guitar that gets further into the realms of noise and echo as the song continues.
“How to Be Clean” is the album’s lone rock song; indeed, with its more traditional structure it might be the only “song” of the bunch. Its tone, however, is stubbornly loud and unrestrained, with vocals buried under noise. In that way it’s the messiest track on the album. Where the others feel like clean lines that nonetheless form into a mind-twisting sonic cloud, this one feels at first like an amorphous cloud, yet ultimately reveals itself to be a pop song resting under layers of fuzz. At its end the song crumbles away, leaving an echoing rumble. Slowly from the rubble emerges the album’s longest track, “Music for Three Synthesizers”. If the title sounds like an academic exercise, the actual music is like an extended lullaby, circling and taunting. It’s Raymond Scott’s Soothing Sounds for Baby, but for the baby’s daydreaming bohemian grown-ups. The synthesizers gently slowly twinkle a series of notes across the sky, building a blanket of sleep.
Landing’s newborn tapestry benefits from a “less is more” line of thinking. Brocade‘s five songs are open-ended, abstract, and mysterious, yet the musicianship is controlled, restrained, confident. It’s Landing’s most fanciful and mind-expanding album yet, while it’s also in many ways their smallest. By reining in their sound and developing a new grasp on it, they’ve enhanced their ability to really push their music into the stars, to take off on voyages that feel genuinely transcendent.