I must confess, I knew very little about Tunnels when I opted to review The Blackout. Unwise? Perhaps, but sometimes it’s important, nay liberating, to be able to digest a record whole without the crumbs of preconception becoming irritatingly caught between your teeth (ahem). Clumsy metaphors aside, a bout of Internet based research, post-third spin revealed this: Tunnels is the alter-ego of one Nick Bindeman, also of Eternal Tapestry and Jackie-O Motherfucker, two experimental psych bands from Portland, Oregon. He makes ‘modern coldwave’ – that dark, minimal synth music inspired by late 70s/early 80s post-punk and goth – and he’s stoically underground. The Blackout is his first official release following a string of cassettes and CDRs. It’s also a total riot.

Opener ‘Crystal Arms’ eases you in gently; two dreamy synth lines intertwine over Bindeman’s distorted vocal, before a simple four-note bass line heralds a communal chorus of sorts. It’s all underpinned by a ghostly pulse, which by all accounts, and I really hope this is true, is the sound of performance/electronic artist Laurie Anderson banging her fists against her skull whilst wearing a pair of contact mic’d sunglasses. It sounds like the spirit of Martin Hannett himself is tapping a rhythm out on the mixing desk.

‘Volt 1979’ comes at you like a speeding car, all wailing sirens and post-punk guitars, like something from the soundtrack of notorious hit ‘n’ run video game nasty Grand Theft Auto. ‘Deux’ is how Roxy Music may’ve sounded if Eno hadn’t jumped ship; ‘Without Light’ sounds like Ian Curtis trying his hand at disco and loving every minute of it.

The album continues at a thrilling pace, the only real dud coming in the shape of the meandering ‘How I Hate You’ - as dreary as it sounds. Bindeman’s influences are barely disguised – Gary Newman, Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, Siouxsie Soux (especially on the Banshee-aping ‘Dead Ringers’) – but this is not a record bathed in nostalgia or an embarrassing, cliché-ridden retro-fest. It’s lo-fi and fun, packed full of genuine pop hooks. The album closes with ‘Moon Bombs’, just over two minutes of phased noise, top-ended by an eerie, repeated synth figure.

Had I read-up on Tunnels prior to listening to The Blackout my judgement may have been coloured: many of his peers seem determined to make music aimed solely at those with only the most angular of tastes and coiffeurs (those damned preconceptions again – pass me the floss!). It can be a rather charmless business. Did Bindeman intend to make such an accessible, poppy record? Perhaps not, but The Blackout is a strong, confident debut; just don’t ask me to take it too seriously.