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Album Review

by James Duncan

Banished From The Universe

Review Date
1st June 2012
Reviewed by
Max Walker

Stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight once again, James Duncan returns with second solo album Vanishing which continues his unique brand of claustrophobic pop music he last served up on debut album Hello-Fi in 2009.

Where Hello-Fi saw Duncan conjuring dreamy electronic pop with the help of friend’s such as HDU drummer Dino Karlis, Punches’ band mate Kelly Steven and Annabel Alpers (Bachelorette), Duncan relocated to Berlin and handled almost all of the musical duties himself on Vanishing. The essence of this solitude is palpable; a kind of haunting, disjointed repetition appears in each song’s structure with beautiful results at times. ‘Standard Oblivion’ is a wonderfully built ambient drone piece with hushed vocals over a distorted scatter beat.

Vanishing treks through dark, winding hallways of old fuse boxes and bleeping switchboards occasionally pierced by clattering drums, dreamy choruses and melodies. The album has an unsettling mood, largely caused by the various sonic loops and filtered vocals, reminiscent at times of Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound project. Duncan’s whisperings are both disorientating and comforting in the midst of such a dense soundscape. ‘Wha’ begins with a looped vocal line building in overdriven guitar riffs, cymbal crashes, synth hits with Duncan’s emotive lyrics sounding like they’re being yelled down an ancient telephone line. ‘Galactic Screen Saviour’ is a broodingly cinematic, populated with soaring strings, gongs and an apocalyptic, Bowie-like chorus: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust/ We can’t save the world.”

There are moments of upbeat joy, triumphant closer ‘Something Better’ sounds a bit like Wellington’s Over the Atlantic. The song features the line “I’ll give you a piece of my heart forever/ I think I should give you something better” over a palm-muted reverb guitar riff as various keyboard lines chime in the background. ‘You’d Better Wait’ is perhaps the most straightforward track on the album with a simple bouncy piano rhythm, horns (courtesy of Cassette’s Tom Watson and Don McGlashan) and sees Duncan using a romantic falsetto to sing lyrics like “You look just like the girl I fell for”.

Vanishing spends a lot of its time almost hiding the melodies within each song but it makes it all the more rewarding uncovering the album’s various hooks over a number of listens. This record may only be the second under his belt, but Duncan’s various musical experiences have created a mature and intricate album worthy of national and international attention.


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