Epics in minutes

Sian Alice Group make a lot from a little (of everything)
By REYAN ALI  |  October 13, 2009

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MIXED MEDIA Sian Alice Group’s æsthetic is a dulcet, sultry assembly of starry post-rock build-up, jazz poetics, bouncing back-alley beats, and rustic piano twang.

Rupert Clervaux has made a game out of reading how people dissect his band's sound. As a multi-instrumentalist in the London collective Sian Alice Group (who come to the Middle East on Monday), he hears the whole spectrum of genres. "Some people dare to make new ones, which is always fun," says the part-time pianist/drummer. He's pleased by "avant-garde soul"; he finds "analog-synthronica" humorous. In addition to the references to shoegaze curiously — and, from Clervaux's perspective, erroneously — flung onto the band, critics often craft ornate lists of styles for them. Among other attributes, Pitchfork pointed out their "free-jazz breakdowns, pounding Afro-tech grooves, and avant-classical composition."

For our purposes, let's dub Sian Alice Group's aesthetic a dulcet, sultry assembly of starry post-rock build-up, jazz poetics, bouncing back-alley beats, and rustic piano twang. It's one more complex account, yeah, but a band who configured the run time of an album called 59.59 (Social Registry) down to the exact second deserve your theoretical investment.

The Group's founding trio — airy-voiced singer Sian Alice Ahern, guitarist Ben Crook, and Clervaux — have long been friends (15 years for the men), but they didn't begin performing together till 2006. Although they frame their moniker around one member in tribute to jazz conventions ("It would take a pretty lackadaisical appraisal to see the band live and think it was solo music," says Clervaux), inspiration is pulled from whatever source is available. "Some people don't get the record," he says. "They find the jumping around in style confusing."

In fact, the idea is to mesh the familiar and the comfortable with the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable in order to send listeners' ears into unlikely corners. It's part of the band's creed to "make music the same way we listen to music," and that diverse palette is why Clervaux is happy that Sian Alice Group came together so late. "We were still waiting for the diversity to come out in the right way. I don't know that you could do that at 21."

All three founding members are involved in the songwriting. There are "things we know we don't want to get into," like, say, what Clervaux calls "standard rock drums." Apart from that, anything is game for their painstaking creative process. "We're all workaholics at heart."

He's not kidding. Given the luxury of composing and recording in Clervaux's personal studio, the band are currently cultivating some 30 songs. Inspiration comes almost too easily. "What I consider to be a track for the next record might just be one piano line, but we are quite aware of how easy it can be to make a track from one piano line. That could be the birth of a very repetitive song or the first stone on a pathway to make a complex song." They cling to any scrap they believe has potential; the title track to August release Troubled, Shaken, Etc. was constructed out of a guitar piece conceived three years ago. Before the close of 2009, Sian Alice Group are hoping to finish another album. Their goal is an hour of new music a year.

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