The critical theory of Post-Modernism includes the idea that nothing in the world can be new or innovative, because everything has happened already. So, according to Post-Modernism, musical trends and genres are reused, and sometimes reinvented until they are barely recognisable, brilliant homages to a sonic era bygone. It would seem then, that CODES don’t subscribe to the tenets of such a theory, with their biography confidently declaring; ‘never ones to be content with trend-following, the group have taken the recognisable 4-piece band formula and moved it into something entirely their own’. Generally, truly revolutionary, landmark records are a rarity; sometimes, it’s perfectly acceptable for a record to be imitative or unoriginal, especially if what you’re imitating in the first place is good. It is regrettable then, that Trees Dream In Algebra rather sounds like it could be the by-product of a romantic union between Keane and a tranquilised Muse.
CODES’ debut effort is an album of hits and misses, mediocrity interrupted by moments of brilliance. No song summarises this stance more perfectly than ‘This Is Goodbye’. Incidentally, if you forget the title, it is uttered immediately at the beginning of the track, a wholly unnecessary and slightly bizarre female spoken word sample. Fortunately, it heralds a buoyant melodic arrangement complete with delightfully delicate glockenspiels, elevating strings and an infectiously upbeat chorus. Unfortunately, the song suffers from weak verses with bland melodies and cheesy echoed vocal effects which appear to be used on almost ever song on the album. Other tracks are simply second-rate, such as ‘Our Mysteries (Missed Histories)’, a song title which would have got bonus points for the use of rhyme and parentheses were it not so cringeworthy. Equally toe-curling are the seemingly saccharine but empty lyrics, which refer to broken parasols and veils of misery, while the superfluous spoken word samples also continue to rack up.
Yet whilst there are numerous of distinctly average songs that all sound suspiciously similar, Trees Dream In Algebra also offers to its listener a few confectionary-sweet delights. Forceful album opener ‘Malfunctions’ lavishes spine-chilling strings over a bleary sample and electronics that sound like something from The Clangers, frenzied drums and arresting guitar riffs. ‘Cities’ begins with a sweet, lingering piano refrain that erupts into racing, euphoric drums, soaring synths and a juddering bass line, while ‘Telos’ is simple, swelling instrumental that has a beautifully poignant cinematic quality and lovely lullaby-esque melodies.
It is obvious that CODES have not made a bad debut album. With Greg Haver at the helm (Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals), the production is flawless, with each song segueing glibly into the other. There is also the impression that CODES were a band built to fill stadiums of fans (although possibly composed and seated), as songs like ‘Guided By Ghosts’ demonstrate not only a powerful, reverberating tune, and wraithlike vocals, but an anthemic quality too. But the eternal problem with this album is that it is so formulaic it feels like a never-ending maths equation. Hopefully by their follow-up attempt, CODES will have learnt that the cardinal rule of ‘everything in moderation’. Echoed vocal effects included.