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Retarder - Enquiries

Retarder is the solo-project of Lloyd James of Naevus, the modernist folk punk outfit he fronts alongside Joanne Owens. Within the confines of Naevus the sparse arrangements allow the voice and ambiguous lyrics of Lloyd James to become the focal point. Retarder allows Lloyd James to break free of these confines, resulting in an album that is wilfully experimental and much broader in scope, though several tracks carry echoes of Naevus. Enquiries is split between improvisations and instrumental tracks and some wonderful moments of experimental post-punk. This isn't the first time Lloyd James has stepped outside of Naevus. With Marc Blackie of Sleeping Pictures he records as Lark Blames, whose spontaneous electronic improvisations are much closer to Retarder than anything Naevus has released.

'Dancing', a feisty piano instrumental piece, opens Enquiries with pummelling chords and discordant brass section. It's a curious track and not an obvious starting point for the first solo-release from the Naevus singer. Neither is 'Tongue In the Wind' with it synthesizer swirl and spacey effects and some hollow scraping sounds plundered from some treated stringed device. 'Dead Numbers' is awash with shards of discordant sounds and serated seepings anchored to a rudimentary solid bass throb. The formless structure is miles apart from the melodic and filmic sounds of 'Superman's Cave' where Lloyd teases some spirited playing from the synthetic brass over sombre keyboards. In many ways the above moments are quite inconsequential as they are just improvisations and instrumental. Interesting they may be but they're not half as appealing as Retarder's forays into post-punk experimentalism. This really is where Retarder come into their own.

'Modern Evening' picks up on the earlier experimental tracks with stuttered distorted electronic layers, to which Lloyd's treated spoken vocals and isolated guitar strum and rattling cymbals start to take shape culminating in something resembling a heavily distorted electronic version of Naevus, sloping off in acoustic guitars. Even better is 'Turn That Light Off' where Lloyd's drawn out layered monotone vocal works against the jerky rhythms and scraping guitars. It's stop-start structure and angular guitars are firmly in an experimental post-punk mould. 'Modern Evening' and the closing 'Chalk Is Valuable, Keep It In Your Hand' both revolve around repetition, with 'Chalk Is Valuable ...' being decidedly more abstract. Sluggish, disjointed slabs of guitar and drums, overlayen with clipped vocals,alternating between "chalk" and "hand", bookending a section of loose bass playing and a distant poem recital, before returning to the repetitive snatches of guitars and voice. I'm hearing something post-industrial and Swans in its slow paced repetitive structure.

And while it's apparent Retarder isn't an extension of Naevus, there's no disputing the fact that 'Farmer Duncan' is very Naevus like, with it chiming acoustic guitars and simple keyboard melody and Lloyd's warm, relaxed voice delivering a cryptic tale about Farmer Duncan and his mysterious "magic beans".

Naevus fans are advised to approach with caution as if Enquiries was an attempt to step far away from his day job as Naevus it was successful. The fluid and formless experimental and instrumental tracks here will be difficult for those more accustomed to Naevus, but the experimental post-punk moments are a sheer delight. Let's hope Retarder continue in this direction as an entire album like this would be more than welcome as it is Enquiries remains an item of curiosity. For more information go to www.touretterecords.com or www.myspace.com/touretterecords