Reverb Records - 2003 - 48 mins

Dublin's hyperactive electronica scene has started to produce quietly excellent releases. Its latest long-playing product comes with a couple of hidden extras. 'Gothica's excellent packaging might contain a mini-graphic novel, but the music hides a surprise as well, in the form of real instruments, expertly melded with digital effects trickery and subtle rhythm tracks.

Chequerboard's ear for unconventional melody is obvious on lush epics like 'Domino' and 'Hammerhead', which in a better world would be a contender for top of the charts. There are hints of Orbital's more delicate moments in the deep constraint between birdsong synths and pounding beats. Rich, seductive and always musical, the highlights of 'Gothica' are simply magnificent.

The failings are typical of a debut. Releasing a full-length album is an ambitious undertaking. Perhaps a more selective EP would have showcased John Lambert's undeniable talent more effectively. It takes time for a musician to find his particular voice, and on 'Gothica', he spreads himself a little thinly.

But ambition in Irish electronic music should be applauded, and there are enough moments of rare beauty on 'Gothica' to make it one of the domestic releases of the year. Considered, subtle music; that occasionally challenges. It's a rare thing.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: Victorian Flickbook - Domino - Bats - Rusalka - Hammerhead -Nomads - Ice maiden - Glass hands - Talk to me - Peopledust - Elevator Mirrors - Leaving Bohemia - Moscow - 1896