Ninetails’ Quiet Confidence is a thoroughly thematic and shrewdly arranged huddle of live instruments, field recordings, and angelic vocals coming together in psychedelic conglomerate. A listen through the entire release is highly recommended, as it stands strongly as a whole.
Plaid, on 2003’s Spokes especially, laid the British soundwork for artists like Ninetails. It’s a bit daft to just throw out a sound-alike RIYL like this, but fans-of would definitely crush on these Liverpool artisans. Quiet Confidence features the keen mastering ear of Music Producers Guild’s Mastering Engineer of the Year, Matt Colton, who has worked most notably with Raime and James Blake. On first listen, Mr. Blake’s cut-up compositions come to mind. Ninetails’ use of ancient-sounding, pitch-addled human vocals is different than, say, Blake’s Klavierwerke, but they seem to have the same ethereal end result in sight.
Cex’s Role Model is another apt aural forerunner of Quiet Confidence. To state it again, this EP must be heard in its entirety, as the moods shift with each new sample. There’s an intelligence to this music that hangs formidably high above a waterfall, clinging tightly to a seemingly substantial lift that only delivers the brief tensile security of a strand of hair. Cex, in the momentary comparison, offered a more personal look at IDM and intelligent electronic (and creatively mixed) music with his aforementioned album. Not at all pastiche, Ninetails strikes a similar bell without the Autechre Dropps, and Harry Partch sits and stares.
Repeating themes from soulful genes… The music history book of thematic presentation should have a foreword dedicated fully to Harry Nilsson’s Aerial Pandemonium Ballet. Harry took two of his albums and re-mixed them into one and sounded a true APB. Quiet Confidence, with producer Chris Pawlusek at the helm, weaves that same thematic magic. Guitar lines that you swear you just heard. Vocals that sound only halfway backwards, but they remind and refresh. Harry re-recorded the vocals of “One” and slickly inserted them in to “Mr. Richland’s Favorite Song” as a background vocal. These little genius moves keep an old song fresh… keep the listener’s ear perked and noticing.
On the same note, what is already mixed on the cutting edge by Pawlusek and the band, could go further. Music is really chilled-out these days. It’d be nice to hear some more aggressive or perhaps more abrasive re-mixes of the six Ninetails songs here. Picture something industrial beneath or a break-beat sneak sitting, seething under the horns in “Radiant Hex.” For instance, I tried Giorgio Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” under “O for Two.” I was doing the dishes. I started square-dance calling nonsense about, “Everybody who came here on a bike, over in this corner, please!” I was dancing around my kitchen. I broke one of my Alvin & the Chipmunks (who had similarly treated vocals) drinking glasses (Simon: the one with glasses), only to have a Theodore left. It’s fine; he’s the drummer. Most times… all you need is a good groove, but, all the time, you need a beat…. a manifest pulse.
It can be hard to handle progressive music that is just a lot of things that happen one after another with gaudy guitar solos and full-kit triplets and Rick Wakeman pans. It can be hard to handle ambient music, too, because if you’re not trying to melt away a headache or trying to read, it can bore. Ninetails dashes all this while still being musically progressive. They place just the right engaging elements into a radio-play-length song.
Make a dinner that lasts all week. No one wants Dinty Moore beef stew. We want Scottish beef porridge with monkey ears, whole sweet potatoes, and Sri Lankan starfruit. That’s what we have here. Keep pushing the genre barriers, Ninetails, and they’ll move your picture from near the exhaust pipe on the Underground and put it on the side, BIG AS DAY, next to the clean air initiative stamp and the No Smoking sign. It’s going to get better.–Gary Lee Barrett