Imperious. Land Observations, Roman Roads IV – XI.

I can't say I've previously had the opportunity to indulge in 'instrumental guitar compositions that respond to the history & geography of former Roman roads', and therefore I immediately owe a debt of gratitude to London string fiddler James Brooks. Here masquerading as the aptly denominated Land Observations for the début release under said nom de plume, it's little wonder a record of such ingenuity – and that of Brooks is an appealingly ingenuous one, too – be released via perennial envelope-pusher Daniel Miller and his ever impressive Mute imprint. Brooks is no stranger to the label, having been once signed up as one third of Appliance – them great craftsmen of the instrumental to have been lazily lumped under the banner of post-rock, only to then embark upon an indefinite hiatus back in '03. In the interim, Brooks has rediscovered another ability in which his touch remains equally deft and adroit, as his attentions have since turned – or rather returned – to visual artistry. Far from astounding, then, that Roman Roads IV – XI comes packaged in some hugely aesthetically pleasing pencil sketches eked out of Brooks' gelid graphite sticks.

Inspired by courses both old and new (besides ancient ways, Roman Roads IV – XI was also influenced by Brooks' frequent ferriviaria itinerum between London and the Kentish art college at which he teaches) there's a suitably locomotive feel to the album. I often refrain from employing the term 'album', as many records tend not to adhere to the cohesion the term implies although his unaccompanied guitar here strings us along with an irrefutable conviction. Down Before the Kingsland Road and out the other side of Battle of Watling Street, it's as compelling and coherent an instrumental album as I've yet to hear as the former eases us into a concertedly motional oeuvre, only for the latter to grind out on a sort of bookish jam that's as though Zammuto trading some consistency into the admirable avant-garde grooves of Tyondai Braxton's Central Market. All melodramatic slumps (the sound of an adolescent shrug processed and repossessed) and clever slight inflexions, it's a real deal-sealer. En route, Brooks astounds as he wheedles myriad sounds, and with them sentiments from his chosen tool. As I say, an 'electric XI string guitar' is the only instrument to feature, despite the sprightly The Chester Road sounding akin to everything in BRAIDS' undoubtedly cumbersome box of tricks at once, and the thing being assimilated to disused drum machine on the crisp torpidity of Aurelian Way.

The pace builds, only to comfortably plateau with From Nero's Palace. A reliably steady piece within which Brooks juxtaposes palm muted chunks and shiny, trebly bits, it sets us off on our chirpy way quite majestically. Featuring cascading scales that crumble like aeon-old amphitheatre, its five minutes are as beguiling as a placid Tiber ripple: tranquil, yet bursting with vigorous splendour. Violently plucked, Appian Way reroutes a simple pentatonic via some searing melodiousness from a height of more layers than those of that Roman relic aforementioned, before Portway bookends those more serene instances of The Way Out and the delicate orchestrations of Amiina. Prompted by constructions past perhaps, although James Brooks is manufacturing something of a New Age phenomenon under that Land Observations alias of his.