Cherry Red 2016
Back to the future, venerable time-travelers delve into E.M. Forster’s classic story and become unmechanical.
Always at their best when there’s an arching concept to hang onto, this band used to thrive in fantasy settings but, as records such as "It Is The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous" suggested, sci-fi situations give their temporal advances a knife edge. Cue the titular narrative, first published in 1909 and extremely relevant now, with social media’s imprimatur of instant messaging in lieu of personal encounter and exchanging of superficial ideas where solid knowledge once was. Still, rather than retelling the tale straight, the English ensemble expressed its inherent concern in a string of songs which instil traditional ethics, and aesthetics, in the heart of dystopia.
Psychedelic “Living On Earth” might ride a typical Ladbroke Grove groove, stricken with a folk dance, while other pieces range from terrifyingly hilarious, like “Yum-Yum” whose nursery rhyme approximation reflects cul-de-sac of consumerism, to motorik anthems – either dark as “King Of The World” or scintillating as “Synchronized Blue” – to keep the buzz relentless throughout. There’s a dull squeal to the tracks that see Dave Brock’s guitar massaged into synthesizers’ pulse to create an urban streamline and facilitate the hazy, “unmechanical” humaneness of “In My Room” or the equally blissful spread of the “Thursday” blues, although the sharpest individual angles are logically represented by solo numbers.
None of the pieces employ an entire sextet anyway yet, whereas “A Solitary Man” is packing a full-blown sonic attack, Niall Hone’s “The Harmonic Hall” harnesses bluegrass to Middle Eastern trance, whereas Dead Fred’s delicate “Hexagone” laces cosmic rumination with acoustic passages. These are too fragile, and “Lost In Science” brings down blizzard-like riffs upon what could pass for a dream; the civilization-crushing disaster which has a glint of hope in the original story does have it here as well, and the calm of the album’s last moments is a satisfying finale of the veterans’ latest battle. That’s the idea to be shared unashamedly.