On his frequently gorgeous 2014 debut album as Sweet Gum Tree, French singer/guitarist Arno Sojo worked with artists including Scottish singer Isobel Campbell and Tindersticks drummer Earl Harvin.
But with its knowingly retro drum machines and inventive guitar-centric instrumentation, this atmospheric follow-up feels like a change of gear. The lush strings may be gone, but the song is still all on Sustain The Illusion. There’s a hint of Mansun to brooding opener Breaking The Bond and building ballad The Gift, and in parts Sojo’s earnest vocals draw on David Sylvian (the languid Someday, Stars Align). Comparisons come and go (Depeche Mode, Placebo, Sisters Of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch), and while there’s nothing truly prog here, Sojo does have the knack of imbuing conventional songs with imaginative twists: the compelling melodic ideas of the motorik Twinkle; Clean Slate’s enigmatic earworm refrain, the guitar textures of Guilt Trip and that bass groove on Burn Your Icons. At times the lyrics sound a little mangled and Sojo dares to compare life to a rollercoaster at one point, but the troubadour’s open-hearted performance and craftsmanship make this a work of real substance.