It’s been a while – Hologram is Amplifier’s first album since 2017. Amplifier main man Sel Balamir has not been idle in that period, releasing two well received solo albums, Swell and ( )rphans in that Covid affected period, and also moving the band’s base from North-West England to the South Downs. It emerges though that Hologram was not really intended as their next album. Gargantuan had apparently been gestating as the next release for over a year, but is yet to be released, as in separate sessions in the Autumn of 2022, Amplifier created the music for Hologram.
Realising that this material did not really fit into the design of the Gargantuan project, Amplifier have released it as Hologram. It is interesting to see what direction Amplifier are taking after such a long break since the relentless psychedelic rock of 2017’s Trippin’ With Dr. Faustus. In truth, one never knows quite what to expect from Amplifier: whether it was their crunchier, rocking early albums or their full-on prog rock concept album The Octopus, or the more subtle art rock of Echo Street, and then the groove-laden high-energy of Mystoria – Amplifier have never been predictable. This is a band who constantly evolve, but there is always an unmistakable musical DNA running through their music, described by Sel Balamir as “the celebration of the transcendent nature of Rock music as escapism is the constant theme that binds everything that we have done into a coherent body of work.”
The classic, infectious riff monster that is Amplifier is clearly reflected in the characteristic stoner tones of Two Way Mirror, albeit drenched in layers of trippy deviations on the main theme. Through it all, Sel’s great high register voice is distinctively threaded, and the riffs just keep driving on relentlessly – it’s quite an opener. “Evil genius is the trait of the modern man”, announces the weirdly dissonant Sweet Perfume, with Matt Brobin pounding this distorted monster of a song onward on drums. The vocals sound sinister and, frankly, a little bit bonkers, with this disturbing Frankenstein-like song seemingly aimed at vacuous celebrity, evoking a rather nightmarish and off-kilter atmosphere, before it gently fades away unexpectedly. This dreamy conclusion seems to signpost a decidedly more subtle and melodic direction for the album, as an extended synth wash intro sets up the shimmering, echoing beauty of Hologram, with soft dream-like vocals from Balamir. The chiming, echoing synths of the main theme eventually give way to some coolly picked guitars in the coda – Hologram is definitely more about atmospheric soundscape than guitar-led riff-fests.
The shortest piece on the album, Tundra is rather a gem, featuring some fluid drumming under layered guitars and restrained vocals. This is Amplifier in a much more understated mode and indicates a different approach taken in their recordings, as shared by Blamir:
“…traditionally the rehearsal room/live performance space was the focal point of how we made records, but now we’ve changed that around, making the mixing desk the apogee of the process… everything sounds different, more hi-fi, more polished – we’ve tried to take the approach that Mick Fleetwood described when he was explaining how they recorded Rumours – paying sonic attention so that less was actually more… considering that when we started our kind of joke maxim was ‘more is more’ it’s funny now to see that we’ve kind of ended up at the other end of the telescope…”
The gorgeous chords and melodic subtlety of Let Me Drive has distinct echoes of Echo Street from 2013, and continually returns to an infectious main theme wrapped in synths… but at the end Sel cannot resist an almost robotic groove guitar riff coda – this is Amplifier after all! There is a sense of a dystopian or sci-fi landscape lyrically, but who knows? The atmosphere and groove is everything on an Amplifier album – Sel Balamir has described Amplifier as ‘Rock music as escapism’!
The final song is enticingly called Gargantuan, Part One, which very probably marks it out as a gateway to the next planned full album and as a foretaste of what we may come to expect. If so then Amplifier listeners are in for rather a treat. This song seemingly only has a tenuous connection with Planet Earth as Amplifier somehow manage to imbue ascending power chords with a sense of lightness as the song drifts off into orbit, borne aloft on a memorable fading synth melody.
Hologram is quite a journey in only 36-minutes, and was seemingly produced in a fairly short period, but ignore doubters about the length of this album. Some seem more obsessed with length rather than quality. This album is as exactly long as it needs to be. Hologram does have the feeling of an ‘interim’ album, acting almost as a pathfinder for a more ambitious project to come. However, if this Hologram is an interim projection for the future album it bodes very well indeed for Gargantuan. Hologram is a high quality and welcome return from simply one of the coolest rock bands on the Planet – where they go next is a fascinating prospect.
01. Two Way Mirror (5:30)
02. Sweet Perfume (6:20)
03. Hologram (6:48)
04. Tundra (3:50)
05. Let Me Drive (7:02)
06. Gargantuan (Pt.1) (6:48)
Total Time – 36:18
Sel Balamir – Vocals, Guitars, Production
Matt Brobin – Drums
Record Label: Rockosmos
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 14th April 2023
– 2004 – Amplifier
– 2006 – Insider
– 2011 – The Octopus
– 2013 – Echo Street
– 2015 – Mystoria
– 2017 – Trippin’ With Dr. Faustus
– 2023 – Hologram
– 2021 – Swell
– 2022 – ( )rphans