The Invisible, The Borderline, London

 

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It's cruelly ironic that, after garnering tremendous praise for their Mercury-nominated self-titled debut album last year, The Invisible have barely featured in the collective conscience of the Great British record-buying public. Their relative obscurity seems to be one of those strange mismatches of talent and fame, and certainly less than their intricate, well-delivered compositions deserve.

If this has bothered the band, then it doesn't show; frontman Dave Okumu is as cheery and relaxed on stage as you'd expect from a musician of his pedigree. But there's evidence of efforts to update their set with fresh material, and, as the band had promised in a blog a few days previously, there are three new songs, "Memories" and "Squares and Circles" opening the set, and "The Stain", which comes later. With Tom Herbert showcasing his polymath-rock abilities to the full, the faintly Amish-looking multi-instrumentalist takes to the bass and synthesiser to provide a central role in creating a sound which is more electronic – and with less of the jazz and funk which features so heavily in the band's earlier material. The opener, "Memories", swirls with a droning synthesiser that suggests Joy Division's electronic experimentation, building to a sonic crescendo in which the marked lack of the jazz-tinged jam sessions which fill out other songs tonight is welcome.

As ever, the London three-piece are much easier to enthuse about than describe, having laboured under more classifications than they'd care to remember during their three-year career; and while Brit-funk has been perhaps the least inspired charge levelled at them, there's also been kraut-rock and post-house, all too often accompanied by "fusion", with its awkward hint of uncertainty. Having described themselves as "genre-spanning spacepop", "Squares and Circles" fits perfectly, with a brilliantly glitchy keyboard line which sounds like Four Tet dropping a synthesiser down the stairs and a jazzy middle eight which, this being jazz, ends up as a middle 64. As preliminary as this new sound might have been (the band have described it as "very much in process"), there's a sense of departure from the more esoteric areas of their earlier work. "The Stain" continues largely in the same vein.

The rest of the evening is devoted to the back catalogue, and it's clear that with such a wealth of musical talent behind them, the risk of showing off is never going to be far away. At it's worst, the set shoe-gazes its way into complicated, wordy territory which is, unfortunately, as difficult to listen to as it is accomplished; there are shades of this on Monster's Waltz, where lines like "complicit in his own sentencing" and "the role he sought to inhabit / was dual in its nature" show the band doffing their cap to the purple lyricism of prog-rock. The allusion, though, is mercifully brief, and fellow single "London Girl" (the first of their eponymous LP) more than makes up for it with an intense, brooding aggression supplanting its louche articulation on record. It receives the best reaction from the audience over the evening, though there is barely room to wriggle in the cave-like Borderline, with its dubious claims of recent refurbishment. 



Only eight songs in, the band depart from the stage and, as it becomes clear there will be no encore, the audience are left to contemplate the evening's explosion of styles and influences.  With many onlookers in silent admiration for the past hour, it's a fitting ending to a band cutting their teeth on new material which will hopefully mean they end this year less invisible than at its beginning.

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