Engineers are not like any other band. Onstage Simon Phipps is the singer, Dan Macbean is the guitarist, Mark Peters is the bassist and Sweeney is the drummer, but the real clue is in their name: they approach their music like engineers, carefully constructing wonderful walls of sound.
Following the rapturous reception that greeted their mini-album Folly in 2004 and debut Engineers the following year, it’s taken them a long time to build the epic that is Three Fact Fader. After initial recording sessions with producer Ken Thomas, Engineers became unwitting victims of record company restructuring and the album was left in limbo, unfinished until the band reconvened earlier this year, largely motivated by public support. “We seem to appeal to people in a really deep way – people tell us our music has helped them through intense times in their lives,” explains Mark Peters. “This is why it was so important to get the album released, it means so much more than the peripheral aspects of releasing records.”
It’s not just lyrically that Engineers have a deep emotional resonance; the music itself has an overwhelming sense of purity and beauty that you can completely immerse yourself in. It was this tendency towards epic soundscapes that saw Engineers lumped in with the nascent shoegaze revival when they first appeared; now that the scene that celebrates itself has gone overground with the reformation of My Bloody Valentine and high-profile compilations from Rob Da Bank and revivalist label Sonic Cathedral, it seems as if Engineers have timed their return perfectly. “It pleases me to see shoegaze finally being accepted as a genre rather than something to poke fun at,” says Mark. “I do see links with our music, some of which are intentional and some of which aren’t, but there’s a lot more besides. The best music taps into the enigma of the human condition and thinking too much about trivialities such as genres tends to put the mockers on creativity.”
There were clearly no such constraints on Engineers’ creativity while they were making Three Fact Fader, which takes the influences of the debut and expands on them, resulting in a much bigger, bolder record. So, while Brighter As We Fall does indeed sound like Slowdive, it’s Slowdive as reimagined by Phil Spector. Song For Andy could be one of those previously unreleased Dennis Wilson tracks that cropped up on the Pacific Ocean Blue reissue. The Fear Has Gone begins with ambient drones and neo-classical strings reminiscent of Austin, Texas minimalist duo Stars Of The Lid. The heavenly harmonies of Be What You Are would sit comfortably on David Crosby’s solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name. What Pushed Us Together has a similar sunshine psychedelia feel to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch.
However, perhaps the biggest development is in the use of rhythm. Both Sometimes I Realise and Hang Your Head have a pounding, dancefloor-friendly quality, while both the title track and opener Clean Coloured Wire combine woozy, My Bloody Valentine-style melodies with a sense of propulsion purloined from krautrock. Literally in the case of the latter, which is based around a sample from Harmonia’s Watussi, which is so effectively employed that Michael Rother himself claims the song gives him goosebumps.
So, thanks to one of the forefathers of German experimental music and the persuasive powers of the record buying public, Engineers are once again hard at work, building their ever more impressive sonic architecture. “We felt a massive rush from knowing that ‘Three Fact Fader’ would finally be presented as we wanted it to be,” concludes Mark. “Now, playing live is top of the list of our priorities and we’ve started to get some new ideas together. Don’t expect such a long gap between records next time...”
Here’s three facts about Three Fact Fader, the new Engineers album. One, it’s already one of my favourite albums of the year, delving even further into the sensuous and sublime worlds of neo-shoegaze, cosmiche synth rock and blissed out pop music. Listening to it feels like traversing a maze made from velvet, snow and honey with a pleasant head injury. Two, it’s been well worth the five year wait since their debut EP Folly and four year wait since their debut album were released to hear this record; the delay hasn’t been about tardiness, rather record label troubles, which have now been solved. Three, this album (to repeat what I said recently in the NME - something that bears repeating) is bookended by two of the best songs you’ll hear all year ‘Clean Coloured Wire’, which is built around a haunting Harmonia refrain, and ‘What Pushed Us Together’, an Animal Collective-influenced gem of a track.