Drift Code is the ambitious follow up to former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb’s (Rustin Man) Out of Season (2002). Layered instrumentation and pure emotion are at the forefront of the record, and the overall album feels warm and intimate, similar to that of Father John Misty releases. But whereas Webb previously collaborated with accomplished singer Beth Gibbons (Portishead), this time around he takes to the mic himself, with varying degrees of intrigue and success.
The album opens with the delicately layered “Vanishing Heart”. While a lone duet of piano and guitar introduce us to the new world of Paul Webb, the track expands to include strings, some organ, horns and more guitar. Over this, the optimistic, yet eerie voice of Webb speaks of being liberated from a loveless relationship, coined in lyrics such as “at last I’ve found more warmth to feeling, it feels so good to be alive”. Webb’s peculiar voice is most appealing in harmonised portions throughout the track – used to great effect and ultimately as a distraction from the rather underwhelming instrumentation.
The following cut “Judgement Train” is darker and invokes a grittier atmosphere. Abuse of a wah-wah pedal adds a bluesy feel to the track. Webb’s vocal harmonies across the track have an almost ancient Gregorian feel, droning throughout the verses and choruses. The general interplay between busy drum fills and great thumping bass lines leads to a repetitive and also droning rhythm section, detailed with neat additions of wind instruments, samples, twangs and piano.
From its opening warbling organ, “Brings Me Joy” simply falls flat. A weak chord progression is accompanied by a tasteful melody which is at times purposefully dissonant. A soaring female vocal line creates a beautiful suite of a more classical type, though it feels entirely out of place here.
“Our Tomorrows” consists of a 5/4 acoustic guitar and drum foundation, the constant groove of which leads to a rawer display from Webb. Following keys and strings, a brutally low and catchy horn section rounds the track out in a creative way. This track, amongst others on the record, pairs sections of stripped back instrumentation with sections of an almost orchestral feel. Arguably, Webb’s bass is the unsung hero of this track, tying the track together, while also accentuating the odd time and drum groove.
A fair bit slower, “The World’s In Town” could fit right onto Pink Floyd’s Meddle (1971). Starting out as a quiet, unassuming cut, over the six minutes Webb transforms the song into a swirling cacophony of psychedelia. A soft drum beat sets the opening mood, but is quickly overpowered by the escalating chorale, inciting a generally tense mood. “I’m part of the milky way”, sings Webb, as the solid chord progressions, big drums and churning electric guitars become cosmically intense.
While the following track “Light The Light” may be a bit more straightforward in its structure and sound, a clunky 7/8 riff forms a nice, albeit jolting and repetitive contrast. On top of the jerky piano sits a funky electric guitar, brass, and an exasperated Webb. Harmonies in the chorus ensure the track fits into the overall sound of the album, but the verses are essentially bare of anything non-essential. Following this, “Martian Garden”, arguably, reflects the record’s title most aptly, in its drifting, wandering structure. Unexpected shifts and barely related sections form a grand track. Almost a nod to the bent nature of the track, Webb remarks “round and round we lead the parade” as the track undergoes a massive change from a sparse, ambient midsection, into a structured, heavily supported final section.
“All Summer” is a much simpler track that closes this chapter in Rustin Man’s discography, in which Webb winds down his experimental flair and gives us a more direct show of emotion. Acoustic guitar and arpeggiated piano chords are again heard, with Webb adopting a warbling voice in the depths of his register. The reverb-heavy track is a bit of a daze – the dreamy atmosphere certainly fitting the roll of the closing track.
As the final piano chords ring out on Rustin Man’s first album in 16 years, one can’t help but wonder how long we may have to wait for material in the future – but we’re sure to find something more appealing in the meantime.
Drift Code is released Friday 1st February via Domino Recording Company