SUPERTOYS LAST ALL SUMMER LONG


Klaxons review For the Quietus
September 12, 2010, 10:34 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews, Album Reviews: Noted Artists, The Quietus | Tags:

We aren’t going to bore you with revelations that Myths Of The Near Future wasn’t rave. There was such a thing as a nu rave sound, but it was a misnomered red herring that made a handy hook for marketing. Besides that, the trend is as dead as Shit Disco and the debate is markedly irrelevant when it comes to Surfing The Void. Try this on for size instead: ever noticed Klaxons bear comparison to cult psychobilly greasers The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster?

Exchange the synths and ethereal neurofunk for a Blues taste and face-pulling Biafro-esque satire, and the eunuch space-priests for a Nick Cave baritone, and what you’re left with is the possessed Brightonians. In essence it’s fundamentally two sides of the same bass-prevalent chemical-cocktail of high camp and garish fantasy, and music that is very tangibly roving the tributaries of the mind. The themes may differ – for the Disaster it’s all matinee monsters; for Klaxons, Aztec alien overlords – but consider EMBLD’s Magick-al whirring guitars, or the breakdowns on the punkers’ ‘I Hate The Blues’ and ‘Mission From God’. Compare ‘Atlantis..’ to the Disaster’s ‘Love Turns To Hate’, or ‘Four Horsemen’ to ‘Celebrate Your Mother’. If nothing else, the commonality is proof for their pop-hating naysayers that Klaxons have produced something mordantly weirder than the occasional radioactive coke-turd.

Klaxons’ much delayed follow-up, alas, sees their departure from this shared pasture. While Myths… plied anorexic dancetaria – an inspired hotchpotch of D.A.F, Alern-8 and Magazine – Surfing The Void hails the tidal disorder of a calamitously overdriven Prog splurge. It’s ‘nu’ alright – or it is for Klaxons, at least.

The cynics might see Klaxons relocation to prog proper (the fist-pumping and populist kind, it has to be said) as misdirection from a dirge of ideas. The ploy being that with prog, a guitar band can pretty much spread untold layers of inscrutable eccentricity in efforts to connote ‘futurism’ (or music of the future, i.e. weird shit you’ve not heard the likes of before). Which is the no.1 most coveted label for forward-thinking indie bands and other avian folk who can’t do electronic – a mentality Klaxons helped to codify with Myths…. But a determination to create something ideologically extraordinary was Klaxons’ real nod to rave culture; something radical (or radically affirming, even) was always the plan. It’s plain logical, then, that they’ve plumped for a prog template. Boundary-enlarging but suggestive of depth, prog – that high-minded quest to cast rock & roll as more than just prole opiate – unlocks a non-system in which Klaxons can avoid the stock styles, vibes and structures native to that hoary old past.

True to form, the lyrics are made up from components of the band’s lit-fads and odes to pet pseudo-scientific developments. ‘Flashover’ relates to the critical point at which gas reaches maximum density and ignites (a good model for Klaxons’ journey from Myths...to Surfing The Void) while ‘Future Memories’ describes the phenomena of seeing the future in the form of a distant memory. It’s all pretty cool, but the failing on Surfing… is that the themes aren’t aestheticized by the sonics like on Myths, or the way IDM producers (to draw an uneasy parallel) make their sci-fi titled tracks actually sound like the titular syndrome, anomaly or (in Autechre’s case) synapse glitch. The disparity leaves the references as icing on the cake rather than the flour and sugar. Outré subject matter is always happily received and certainly it’s a filling album, but you’re left sweet-toothed for the return of the likes of Late Of The Pier, who advanced Klaxons’ aesthetic as far as it could go with just the one convention – an infinitely greater disregard for compromise. Suffice to say their new E.P Best in the Class is testing very nicely; in contrast, the songs on Surfing… aren’t very cosmic for a cosmic rock album.

Gladly, the same can’t be said for Ross Robinson’s production, which has a sterile, future-beautiful finish; if the guitars are coarse, the membrane that contains them is all smooth plastic and impervious burnish, and the producer has the album emanating from a remote acoustic space. It’s almost like their off-world transmissions, degraded in quality by a millennium of space travel, were recorded in their extravagantly marbled Great Hall on Saturn’s ice moon. The effect is compression basically, and it was probably a commercial play, but it happens to serve Surfing…’s imagery better than the scraggy guitars.

That’s not to say they aren’t still an original and adventurous band in their new gusty rock skin. The two most thunderous (and incidentally best) songs – ‘Surfing the Void’ and ‘Flashover’ – adapt the suspend-and-release hook that primed the banging codas on ‘Magick’ and ‘Atlantis’s for a mid-point mosh. ‘Echoes’ is iridescent but crushing at the same time, and the blaring ‘Extra Astronomical’ continues apace with the spun-glass guitar lines that riddle the album. Similarly pursuant to the rest of Surfing…, ‘The Same Space’ is melodically pleasing and a coup in the maturity stakes as well as being surprisingly emotive.

Most reminiscent of Myths, meanwhile, is closer ‘Cypherspeed’ which could (and should) have been two minutes shorter, but what other indie band would put Supertramp with Merzbow and supercharge it into a severe and angular surge? The result is patently ace and on the blinding chorus you can almost envision Sam Fahramand’s zero-gravity camera circling them from low angles.

What with the campaign of ruinous pyrotechnics, the tottering, 70s-referencing pleasurecrafts on Myths… like ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ and ‘As Above So Below’ are absent. It’s a shame, really, because they gave Myths… much of its personality and charm. The closest comparison on Surfing… would be the trebly spangle of ‘Twin Flames’ and ‘Venusia’, but even they’re more fulsome and majestic than the dainty Tomorrowland sketches of before. Another part of you wishes they had ditched the guitars and upped the b.p.m, because on occasion their nebulous Prog aspirations beget wasteful writing, blur the edges of a good melody or on occasion blunt or vulgarise their pop nous, as evinced on the forgettable ‘Valley Of The Calm Trees’.

In the end though, it’s a winning album. They can report the mission complete: we’re still interested in Klaxons’ future. Not because, as was once believed, they knew what it sounded like, but because there’s proof here they still have their heads in the clouds. Maybe once they’ve completed the Magick Trilogy, they’ll write the prequel to Myths…, dump some Mentasm bane like its 1989 and fully explore rave culture, the spirit of which only they managed to re-incarnate with just guitars and a reoccuring dream of the first time around – their myths of the near past. John Calvert

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