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by Roger Young / 17.03.2011

A Skyline on Fire’s debut album Slow is an electronic undertow of thwarted love beneath a choir-like swell. It’s all at once draggy and soaring. Using a very sparse sound palette of lush and grand electronica with a mourning vocal tone and counterpoint backing harmonics, it’s devastatingly simple and emotionally profound.

Skyline On Fire is CF Haasbroek and Werner Burger. Beyond that I know very little about them and really don’t want to know anymore; everything I need from them is on Slow. The album itself is beautifully packaged with interchangeable covers and disarmingly twee illustrations but Skyline are not a twee band; they’re far too moodily introspective for that.

A Skyline On Fire - Album Covers

The album starts off almost silly with “All For You”, a wet fudgy beatboxing and a brief almost comedic backing vocal but it soon builds into one of their signature soaring sweet heartsore hallelujah choir moments. “Sinners” starts off relatively clean but it’s doomy slow beats are soon washed over with smudgey synth waves and a chanting of “There is no hope for me and you”, only cleaning itself up slightly for “Tonight, tonight there is a hunger inside me that I’ve never felt and I’m not sure I don’t like”, which then builds into a high grind, overlaid with voices to the heavens.

The most immediately emotionally gripping track is “Christmas Card”. Light throbbing sequencing that slowly layers upward over a mounting beat accompanied by a gentle pleading that masks anger and resignation. It’s combination of emotionally spare lyrics, “It is and was never you, I’m the itch and not the scratch, I’m the fuck up and you’re the echo, it’s never you”, the ambiguity of the tone, the sonic sparseness crescendos; sad and delicious, like falling through a flock of angels and broken promises.

“Loose Thoughts” starts slight with guitar, echo whistles and violins moving through peaks and troughs with guest vocals from Fulka’s Ola Kobak. Its beats move from a simple tick tock to a marching band, taking it on a battling ride. The verses on “Tatters” are delivered in a low register mantra chanting tone driving toward bass sounds that pull back intolonging and the declaration, “I’m a mess, I’m mess.”

“Cool Hero” on the other hand is inessential and feels like an extension of Tatters; and this is where Slow’s weak points are, many of the tracks like “Cool Hero”, “Up” and “Expert Heart” are flimsier versions of sonic ideas explored better in other songs. Not bad songs in their own right but certainly the weaker songs on the album. “Kids In Bad Water” and “Stuck” both go darker and deeper with the crescendos and pleading. After the previous two tracks “An Easy Battle A Lost War” is so slight and charming that it is almost unnoticeable in the aftermath but it’s restraint and simplicity make it easily one of the best songs on the album, after “Christmas Card”. Using the same rising structure as most Skyline songs, it swaps out percussion for bass and cello and results in a bittersweet plea.

Slow is hampered only by the fact that some of its lesser tracks have a slight sense of déjà vu. This takes it away from being an excellent album to a collection of really excellent lush introspective songs. From military drums to pulsing synths and unrequited yearning, Slow is lovely and erudite debut; luxurious, beautiful and filled with sweetly pained voices that turn menacing behind your back.

A Skyline on Fire play with GivanLotz in Joburg this Sunday at Kitcheners.

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