'Nil By Mouth' is an instrumental album from Neil Arthur's current solo incarnation of Blancmange, and although the album is something of a cracker it's not until you remove a very distinctive element from the music - in this case Arthur's vocals - that you realise how defining that element is to what we know as 'Blancmange'. Frankly without those very distinctive vocals on display it's difficult to connect this record to Blancmange's previous work, but perhaps that's not important because unlike some instrumental releases 'Nil By Mouth' stand up very nicely on its own. It is entirely electronic, and it sounds very much like it has drawn predominantly on classic analogue sounds as it meanders through a number of styles and grooves, from the slow, minimal moodiness of opening track 'Eleanor' through the moody cinematic soundtracks of 'Fall' and the rather stately electro-waltz of 'Cistern', to the Balearic sunset sounds of 'Matters of Life' and the dark funk of 'Close Encounters'.
It may be the palate of synth sounds on display but 'Nil By Mouth' - to these ears - wears its influences on its sleeve with nods to Kraftwerk on the kinetic sounds on 'R&P', to the dark influence of Depeche Mode on 'Gone' and perhaps New Order in their more experimental moments on the upbeat layered grooves of 'Crystals Of Zircon'. But the thread that runs through the entire record is the presence of a cinematic sensibility at work, and pretty much all these tracks could comfortably soundtrack films, in particular the dignified and stately sounds featured on the more overtly orchestral tracks such as 'The Son', 'Fall' and 'So Long Ago'. There is also one song here that acts as a reference to the Blancmange of yore, and that is a 2005 reworking of 'Holiday Camp' - the original version of which featured on the band's recorded debut, the 'Irene & Mavis EP', back in 1980 - a track that features Neil Arthur's original partner in crime Stephen Luscombe and which, somehow, manages to sound simultaneously slow and fast as it closes the loop between the distant and recent past.
This is Blancmange but, without Neil Arthur's singular vocal style as a convenient point of reference, it's not Blancmange as you know it. It also works beautifully and bears the best name for an instrumental album ever!
This Is Not Retro.
Eleanor / Fall / R&P / Cistern / Gone / Crystals Of Zircon / The Son / Matters Of Life / Holiday Camp / Landsea / So Long Ago / Close Encounters
'Nil By Mouth' was released on September 25th 2015 on CD, Vinyl and Digital Download.
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