Zak Riles – S/T

15/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Title: Self-Titled
Label: Important Records
Genre: Instrumental / Post-rock

Track Listing:

01 Pacific Siren
02 Confluence
03 Sand / Silk Rd. Origian
04 Res Extensa
05 Before the Refuge
06 Slack Key
07 Chloe

Coincidently enough, in a couple of hours I’m supposed to be down in Elephant & Castle watching Grails, whom you may or may not recognise as guitarist Zak Riles’ main band. However, due to commitments such as finishing this review before I get thrown on the ‘unreliable’ pile with a horde of other journalists, the fact that I’m financially eating from my own deposit for my next property and that my score on Defence Grid desperately needs improving, I’ll have to catch them when I’m more inclined to trudge down to such a horrific area of South London. Corsica Studios, the chosen venue for tonight, is a ramshackle hovel filled to bursting with the more pretentious of the arty crowd. Weird clothing and people talking about Proust abound, though bar snacks don’t, so I can only hope that Zak has located one or two of the fetid kebab shops that pickle the streets round the destitute subways. Haute cuisine and Lambeth don’t mix.

It’s far from unusual for band musicians to veer off onto their own solo projects, though I’d hardly call this album a ‘project’. More than anything it feels like a showcasing of Mr Riles’ skills, or to put it more accurately, his understanding of the guitar and its abilities to create atmosphere. There’s a slight Middle Eastern vibe to the album’s sounds and to its artwork. The beige and white digipack comes with a picture of a shoreline headed by Zak’s name in an Arabesque font, whereas inside there is a more of a Christian feel with pictures of the Madonna and candlelit medieval paintings. Zak not only plays the guitar on the album but also the Saz and the Oud, so the middle Eastern theme is very much carried through on this level as well. I’m not so sure about the picture of a boot and circular saw for the on-body CD art, but I’ll try not to lose too much sleep over it.

Album opener “Pacific Siren”, with its jaunty folk guitar, may dupe you into thinking that this album will have quite a positive feel to it. But it’s a bit of a decoy – a curve ball – since the next track, “Confluence”, a contemplative Middle Eastern post-rock ballad, gives the album a far more introspective tone early on. “Sand / Silk Rd. Origian” and “Res Extensa” build on this feeling and take the album into darker territory, giving a doomy, dark ambient feel to the album befitting of the blackest film noir or even earlier Bohren. “Before the Refuge” is a lighter, airier piece of guitar-driven ambient with soaring, breezy melodies; “Slack Key” has a Grecian/Turkish feel to it whereas “Chloe”, the most melodic part of the album, introduces acoustic rhythm guitar and shimmering, clean leads of the finest post-rock instrumental quality.

Zak Riles’ self-titled album is far more varied and, in some places, sinister than the stuff you’d expect to find on a Grails album. Beginning positively and upbeat, it takes you through various atmospheric journeys, all played with style and sophistication. I was initially dubious that this work would turn into little else but wanky, ostentatious self-promotion, but Zak Riles proves he has a masterly understanding of exactly what it takes to create feeling and energy from all types of clean guitar. It’s not the most deep and poignant work of instrumental music, but as something fresh and potent for lighter relief, it fits the bill perfectly.

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