In fact the first thing you're likely to notice about Common Era is the crisp, steady patter of the trademarked Factory Records drum sounds grounding Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones' mournful hum. Which is not to argue that the two have completely shed their more ambient roots for the conveniences of a steady beat and hum-along vocal melodies. Instead, Common Era resembles a shoegaze record heard against a brutal wind, often splitting the difference between their song-oriented inclinations and their mesmeric tendencies.
Their guitars just aren't allowed as much room to float; they're tightly wound repetitive drones and melodies more befitting their new brand of mopey, nostalgic rock whose lyrics are barely ever discernible even when given to actual words. "Keep Still," for example, features vocals that hover and spin more than they advance, a moan enmeshed in the duo's cloudy guitar work, while with its hazy singing and dissonant guitar squall, "Come See" and "Never Came Close" might easily be confused for UK anthems of the late '80s and early '90s. "Different Heart" and the title track meanwhile, are softer and more velveteen, each with an almost metronomic pulse.
But for all of the more arresting moments Belong have crafted on Common Era—and there are plenty—the album's bogged down with enough obvious touchstones and sonic allusions to perhaps divide the duo's former allies from new ones. Often straddling the line between homage and mimicry, it's damn tempting to recommend Belong now more to aficionados looking for a new wrinkle on their favorites than to fans of what, frankly, I thought was kind of an ambient classic in October Language. If it's often notoriously difficult to produce a drone album that can stand out from a deluge of similar releases every month—one of the reasons so many casual listeners write off ambient music in general—you can certainly say the same for this sort of post-punk pastiche given the last decade's rehashing.