By: Rich Buley
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Released on February 26, 2016 via Indelabel
There is inherent danger in looking to one of your key influences for a title for your musical endeavours. Just ask short-lived mid-noughties US shoegazers Daydream Nation. A quick search on Discogs.com will tell you everything you need to about why naming your band after the fifth album by Sonic Youth was a bad idea, without you even needing to consider the possible perception people might have about the music being entirely derivative.
Let us give formerly Norwich based 4 piece Sennen the benefit of any doubt. We will assume they are Sennen as in the rugged, beautiful Cornish coastal village, a mile or so from Land’s End, rather than believing that they chose to name themselves after a Ride EP track- however lovely said track is.
This assumption is helped enormously by the fact that since 2005, Sennen have released four albums of expansive, authentic guitar based rock which, although founded on the psychedelic textures, shimmering chords and spine-tingling ascensions of shoegaze and post rock, have also displayed elements of krautrock, ambient noise and pastoral indie. In other words, quite a lot of the time they sound absolutely nothing like Ride.
Although the band should be applauded for their pure approach and unconstrained style, more recent recordings began to suffer slightly from a lack of pace and purpose, as if Sennen’s previously welcome willingness to explore new ground had seen them lose sight of their home territory, and the sound that made them such an enticing prospect in the first place.
Well, it appears the band themselves may have been aware of this. Now based in London, First Light, their fifth album, and the first since 2012’s Lost Harmony, was mastered by Mr Sonic Boom himself, Pete Kember, and sees the band refocus and come almost full circle, with a collection of semi-psychedelic, elegant guitar pop, and their most complete album to date.
Kember’s touch and influence is never more apparent than on the title track, which opens the album. A rising squall of feedback gives rise to the chiming dual guitars that are a Sennen trademark, before they themselves are joined by some throbbing background effects. Eventually, two and a half minutes in, an infectious, motorik beat kicks in and we’re away, with Larry Holmes’ airy, uncluttered vocal delivery and the restrained instrumentation making the track unmistakably Sennen- the hefty distortion that ends the track notwithstanding.
Lead single ‘Autopilot’ displays much the same kaleidoscopic tendencies, although the band this time offer a very convincing exercise in the art of psychedelic build up play, leading to a satisfyingly intense conclusion to its 7 minute outing.
Elsewhere, things settle down into more traditional Sennen fare, with ‘Frances’ and ‘Into Nothing’ bonafide indie pop gems, and the gradual acceleration and take-off in ‘Walk With Me’- they’re all eminently worthy of sitting in the ‘Best of Sennen’ compilation that we might be thinking of putting together for our uninitiated nearest and dearest.
Sennen’s song-writing ability has never been in question, the disciplined tension of ‘Still Dark’ and crystal clear vocal style of Holmes in ‘The Pilot’ two other cases in point, while the overall feeling that the band have returned to their roots is accentuated further by the two noise interludes that feature on the album, ‘Infrared 1’ and ‘Infrared 2’ (although ‘Sennen Enjoy Ambient Noise’ and ‘Sennen Like Effects’ would have been better titles, to follow the theme of earlier albums).
Sennen have come a very long way in their ten-plus years of being together, and have explored many different musical paths in that time. For me, they have always been most effective when they are straining on the bucolic leash, tinkering ornately on the brink of an enormous sonic meltdown that tantalisingly, and refreshingly, never materialises. On First Light, Sennen have reinstated this sparkling fervour and produced an album full of passion, verve and alluring depth.