Columbia Mills take their name from a building on the Dublin Quayside that played host to the not-entirely-legal rave scene in the early ’90s. A placed that provided the central portion of many the Venn diagram, it was a meeting place for the musically and socially disparate. Guitars and electronica are the primary circles for Columbia Mills – so often a minefield for bands who veer too heavily to one side negating the other, ending up with a lopsided record – who manage to pull off just the right blend.
Double barrel opener ‘A Break in the Clouds, Headstart’ sets alarm bells ringing with its atmospheric, soundscape drudgery as intro before breaking into the ‘Headstart’ portion. It’s the first of a genuinely strong set of songs on A Safe Distance to Watch. There are very few places where the electronica side threatens to swallow the other, for the most part the songs rather than the production take centre stage.
Lead single ‘Battles’ sounds like The Strokes’ early material, sans guitars, imbued with the kind of slow-motion, strobe blurred hallucinations revellers at the building Columbia Mills took their name from probably endured or enjoyed. The programmed beats, open chords, lilting sense of melody and simultaneously bleak but hopeful lyrics are heavily reminiscent of the best of The Jesus and Mary Chain. ‘Alone’ in particular is textbook Reid brothers and one of the album highlights.
A Safe Distance to Watch gets better with every listen, especially if you’re weary of guitar/electronica crossovers having zoned out for entire records before coming to feeling like you’ve just listened to an excruciatingly bland 45 minute song. Sufficient variation in tone and texture serve the songs well throughout.
With the shortest track clocking four and a half minutes perhaps there could have been a few seconds shaved off here or there. A little more immediacy on one or two tracks could have really added to the variation of the record as a whole (he says as he meticulously picks nits).
A strong debut from a band with a clear and concise idea of what their sound is and how to deliver it.