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Hardbolied Wonderland: As Small As A World And Large As Alone

The rather marvellously titled As Small As A World And As Large As Alone is the debut offering from duo Martin Birke (Genre Peak) and Percy Howard (Meridiem Project) going under the name of Hardboiled Wonderland. It is an album which finds the pair present trip-hop in an alternative rock kind of way, with lashings of strings, electronic beats and some glorious vocals leading to a slow grower of an album that pays off repeated listens in quite some style.

Now I know that there may well be some people who frequent SoT who will be immediately turned off by words such as trip and hop being used together and in all honesty I would probably suggest that I would normally fall into that category. However imagine of you will a clash of Fine Young Cannibals electro-pop, Nine Inch Nails more introspective Industrial Metal and add in some wonderful stabs of viola and violins and you'll be closer to the true identity of this release. Clever, insightful, but humour infused lyrics add to an already unusual mix of style and genre and on an album that leaves huge gaps for the vocals to dominate, the words really do come across loud and clear. The other constant factor is the electro beats, which while varied enough from song to song, add a claustrophobic nature to music which can feel stark and oppressive. Somehow though the magnificent vocals from Howard and synths courtesy of Birke allow the melody to be catchy and insistent, without ever being straight forward, or middle of the road.

The songs on this album always feel as if they are going through multiple changes and working on many different levels, with the likes of "Looking For Strange" feeding off an uncomfortable multi-layered beat, which is soothingly tempered by the deep soulful vocals. As the beat breaks into static like clicks and pops, a cracking snare sharply changes the focus - before an insistently strumming guitar (provided by Christopher Scott Cooper who also adds extra samples and co-produces the album with the duo) creates a sumptuous pop lick. The closest comparison is possibly modern day Peter Gabriel (well modern if he'd actually write some new songs!), however in truth the overtly electro nature doesn't even quite do that likeness justice. "Jungle Fever", which tells the story of a women extolling the virtues of black men's sexual prowess (Birke and Howard make for a multi-racial "marriage"), but it does so with the most amazingly hook laden chorus that remains firmly implanted in the mind of anyone with a ten mile radius of its oft repeated vocal melody. Although in truth, it is the ever building mix of samples, strings, vocals and guitar which make this such a memorable song, where pop sensibilities and tension filled arrangements clash and collide into a beautiful captivating song.

Progressive rock isn't really a description that fits Hardboiled Wonderland, however there's little doubt that the more open minded progger will find much joyous melancholy to wallow in and wade through. However some may find the repetitive nature of the beats slightly irksome, although the beauty and drama that runs through this album far outweighs that issue.

Due to the dark nature of much of the music on ASAAWAALAA, I have to admit that this is far from being an album for all occasions. However when the mood takes, Hardboiled Wonderland have undoubtedly created a deep, dense delight.

Track Listing
1. Filthy
2. As Small As A World And Large As Alone
3. Jungle Fever
4. I Carry Your Heart
5. From The Inside Out
6. Looking For Strange
7. Little Queen Of Spades
8. Storm Queen
9. Candy For The Meatman
10. A Forever Thing

Added: October 7th 2011
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Hardboiled MySpace
Hits: 1963
Language: english

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