Before Gardens After Gardens is the 3rd full-length release for Big Sir, the now twelve year-long collaboration between singer-composer Lisa Papineau and Mars Volta bass-man Juan Alderete, and whilst four-string dexterity is still very much to the forefront, this duo inhabit an altogether more ambient, Bjork-flavoured and electronic musical space than the spasmodic prog explosions of Alderete’s more well-known musical co-conspirators.

The first and most striking element of the Big Sir sound is Papineau’s voice, which has a certain breathy fragility and a brittle quality that creates a close and intimate atmosphere, but also possesses a range that can go from a soaring Soprano on tracks such as ‘Our Pleasant Home’, to the cracked growl that cuts through underneath the chorus of ‘Ready on the Line’. Over the course of the album her vocal dances around expansive, melodic bass lines and minimalist trip-hop beats, that are interrupted by sporadic blasts of organic instruments such as accordion and cello. When it comes together this strange cocktail can be really effective, such as on the driving off beat pulse of ‘Be Brave Go On’ or the album’s midway marker ‘The Kindest hour’, a strange and engaging track that begins as a whispered, Wurlitzer led ballad before falling, via a deranged Zappa-esque violin solo, into a tight funk workout.

However, whilst there are highpoints within the album, there are too many lulls where Before Gardens After Gardens slips into background ambience, and indeed the cold detachment of the electronic heart of this album can sometimes translate into a lack of dynamics across individual songs aswell as contributing to a one dimensional feel to the album, which is disappointing given the obvious musicianship that is on show. Tracks like ‘Right Action’ start, progress and finish without really very much happening and sometimes rely too heavily on the multi-layering of Papinaeu’s vocal as a substitute for structure.

Overall, Big Sir offer a lot in terms of ideas and practical prowess on this, but on too many occasions these ideas fall short of translating into a fully immersive and engaging listening experience.