It is time for us to welcome back Manchester’s resident psychedelic pop explorer. Alan Roberts (A.K.A Jim Noir) charts an entirely different course from the immensely dull monochrome strokes of The Courteeners or the pristine pop precision of The Ting Tings, the journey may begin in Manchester but ends up sounding like the soundtrack to an undiscovered and awe-inspiring galaxy.
This self-titled second album is a multi-layered electronic pop record, the kind that The Beta Band might have made as a debut LP had they delivered on their initial promise rather than collapsing under the weight of their own insanity.There is a concept of sorts at work (the departure and life defining experiences of one ‘Commander Jameson’) but don’t let that put you off, it is no self-indulgent prog opus though you get the feeling that Noir probably did occasionally don a cape during the studio sessions.
An obvious reference point throughout is the Super Furry Animals, though we would argue that it has being quite some time since they have written something as gloriously symphonic as album centrepiece ‘Ships and Clouds’, a shimmering space rocket packed with ethereal Beach Boys Harmonies and distorted yet tuneful electronics. The orchestrated vocoder charm of ‘Day by Day by Day’ sounds a bit like a lost Beatles anthology track touched up by pro-tools and it is a terrible shame that it is raining so heavily outside at the moment because this is categorically a summer soundtrack, suggestive of picnics, sherbet ice creams and festivals.
The journey does become more serious as the melancholic music box of ‘On a different shelf’ unfolds with Noir lamenting “I’ve got myself down, my inspiration has flew out of the window” but we would tend to disagree as he is sounding more inspired than ever. Despite this, there is nothing on here that will take Noir to a wider audience, no breakthrough singles or anthems and at times you think that he is caught awkwardly between the leftfield lunacy of bands like the Animal Collective and wanting to be a more direct pop concern.
The intent here is obviously to cultivate a devoted if limited cult audience of disciples, a trick that has secured impressive longevity for his friends Super Furry Animals but is frustrating as he is clearly well equipped to write some perfect pop. The church bells and squawking animal noises of the closing ‘Forever Endeavour’ provides an anti-climatic and disappointing end to proceedings and there are moments where you feel subjected to a kind of wilful obscurity.
It is even more surprising, then that this doesn’t actually intrude on the overall enjoyment of the trip, as ‘Jim Noir’ doesn’t lose its sense of playful abandon or lightness of touch even during its more misguided moments. 2008: A space odyssey.