Engineers haven’t released anything since 2014’s Always Returning which featured their signature lush, melodic, electronic-tinged shoegaze. Since then, they have been quiet. Frontman and band leader Mark Peters has been performing his brand of guitar-ambience in the intervening years, collaborating with Elliot Ireland on the album Deep Blue (2015), fronting the band Salt Rush with Engineers drummer Matthew Linley and vocalist Maud Waret, and releasing solo albums of verdant guitar ambience with 2017’s Innerland and its various incarnations and mixes on the excellent Sonic Cathedral imprint.
So it was with excitement that a few weeks ago Peters’ announced a new release from Engineers, Pictobug, joining forces, once again, with Engineers co-pilot Dan Macbean. What started out as ambient improvisations in a Wigan rehearsal room became a lush 4 track album of mini epics. Peters’ recent dalliances in guitar-focused ambient realms are evident and ensure each track is a beautiful, liminal journey of discovery and hope.
There is abundant space within each track, allowing coalescing waves of shimmering sound to pulse through the currents of soothing energy. The listening experience is a personal one and works best with headphones as Peters and Macbean invite you into their prosaic world of splendid isolation.
There are echoes of recent Engineers member Ulrich Schnauss’ ambient electronics throughout, everything is washed in a luminous melodic coat of multiple layers. Sounds cascade through deep textural atmospheres that cause an almost overwhelming flood of emotions. There are moments of pure blissed out beauty that quite literally takes your breath away. I found myself having to pause momentarily while I processed the depth of sound and achingly beautiful melodies.
Pictobug is an inventive, fascinating aural experience, as rich and detailed as anything by Vangelis and as subtle and delicate as one of Eno’s 1970’s ambient masterpieces.
“After we created a guitar loop that really worked,” says Peters, “we’d stop and listen to it unfold as it strayed from the drum machine rhythm we played to. This created the favorable illusion that this almost generative music was growing and developing.”
Opener Rhenium is a delicate cobweb of gliding guitars and warm and rounded bass. It relies as much on its keyboard swell and chiming melody as the subtle overlay of rhythms. Mazma hums with auroral synths, pitching hypnotically into echoing tunnels of gradual ambience. Peters and Macbean strike that balance of beauty with a poignant, haunting refrain, resulting from the process of improvisation. This organic creation process transforms each track into a living entity which seems to mirror the bio-rhythmic pulse of the listener.
Dan Macbean explains, “There was a conjuring, summoning nature to the sounds we were making, as if it were harnessing an essence in the ether that existed already. It wasn’t a matter of regression – it was as if we were tapping into a state of mind as opposed to a place. Spontaneity was paramount – it was definitely a case of unfinished business.”
Oxisol exists as if on the ethereal plain Macbean alludes to, seemingly drifting between clouds of glowing electronics, punctuated by Peters’ lo-fi bass and the plaintive harmonizing of Macbean’s lap steel guitar. Third Adiabatic closes out the album by seemingly pulling all disparate threads together to conjure an hypnotic whole and it is a beautiful and emotional denouement, one which stays long after the sound has dissipated into the infinite.
This review has unashamedly been about a love affair between me and Pictobug. I have found myself thinking about it a lot and it has helped push me through the fog of so much anxiety. There is a mindfulness quality in this album and it possesses a transformative nature. The world needs music like Pictobug right now and Engineers have returned to save us all.
Pictobug is available from Engineers’ Bandcamp page.
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