Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Van Der Graaf Generator - The Assembly, Leamington Spa, 24th March 2011

Arriving in good time we bought our drinks and found ourselves some decent seats about ten rows back. This venue was obviously a dancehall or similar, and the design is on the lines of all these places of which there must be hundreds in the UK, although it was on a smaller scale than most. I would say it held about five hundred, all seated on what would normally be the dancefloor.

The band arrive quietly on stage, Peter Hammill dressed in his by now traditional stage garb of black trousers and white shirt, as is Hugh Banton. The pair sit opposite each other, Hammill stage left behind his electric piano, Banton stage right behind his modest bank of keyboards, and not forgetting Guy Evans who is as imposing as ever, between them stage rear behind his drum kit.

The gig kicks off relatively low key with Interference Patterns from 2008 album Trisector, and this is one of a large proportion of that album played tonight. Next up is a marvellously wired version of Nutter Alert from the first reunion album Present. Hammill is as emotive as ever and as the gig goes on gets more and more into his muse. The band sound far more at ease with the trio set up than on the last tour when the fallout, both musical and emotional, of David Jackson's rancorous departure had yet to settle. Hammill alternated between his piano and electric guitar, the latter used to great effect on a quite madly intense All That Before, a song that sounds like All Day And All Of The The Night may have done if it had been a prog song!

Other highlights for me were Your Time Starts Now and Mr Sands from the new album, and of course the oldies Childlike Faith In Childhood's End, which got a deserved standing ovation, an emotionally wrought Man-Erg, and the encore Sleepwalkers. The manic intensity of yore may have been diluted by the passing of time, but now the band play with the consumate ease of masters of their craft, and occasional start-of-tour stutterings apart, which were greeted with smiles all round from the band, played a fine set tonight. Long may they continue.


Interference Patterns
Nutter Alert
Your Time Starts Now
Mr Sands
All That Before
Childlike Faith In Childhood's End
All Over The Place
Over The Hill
We Are Not Here
The Sleepwalkers

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Half Past Four - Rabbit In The Vestibule

Dominated by the always smart and intriguing but never strident vocals of Kyree Vibrant, this Canadian based band who apart from Kyree all hail from the USSR are not classifiable in the classic sense and all the better for it in my opinion. The album has a playful spirit epitomised by the instrumental Salome, and only occasionally flags under the weight of its ambition.

Highlights for me are Strangest Dream which has a great hook and could be a hit, Twelve Little Words puts me in mind of Steely Dan for some reason and has some nice guitar breaks. Southern Boogie is just that and sure is funky. Poisoned Tune has a Canterbury feel to it and a really good guitar break and along with Biel these are the two longest songs on the album at around eight minutes apiece. Biel is probably the only song one would recognise as prog in the classic sense, It announces its intentions with an operatic chorus no less, and Kyree gives her best vocal tour-de-force on this song.

This album crosses all sorts of styles, and plays with all the toys in the box from Zappa to Steely Dan to Canterbury Prog to Pop to Be-Bop Deluxe to Sparks to flamenco to Rabin era Yes to Stevie Nicks (yes, really), throws it all up in the air and what comes down to earth is reassembled in an always interesting fashion. The sound of doors opening and closing permeates the album suggesting songs are contained within their own rooms, but still flowing as a whole. Clever use of time signatures within a pop song construct and some fine keyboard and guitar interplay make this album a good way to spend an hour, and each listen reveals intricacies previously missed. Is it prog? Not in the classic sense, but approach it as a skewed left-field pop album and you won't be disappointed.

3 out of 5

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Van Der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers

In 2005 after an absence of 27 years, one of only a handful of the old school "progressive" rock bands worthy of the over used description, the mighty Van Der Graaf Generator, unexpectedly reformed with the classic line up and blessed the world with "Present" a double cd of superb noise. Whereas most of their contemporaries that were still performing were content to gift a shadow of former glories on new works while peddling greatest hits tours to their ageing audiences, VDGG still had that manic and unpredictable edge, albeit mellowed by time, that made them such a great band all those years ago.

Derailed somewhat by the departure of sax impressionist David Jackson (aka Jaxon) after the Present tour the band bravely decided to continue as a trio, and 2008 saw the release of the somewhat underwhelming Trisector, which sounded more like a Peter Hammill solo album than a group work, and has not been played much chez moi since its release. I will have to dig it out before I see them live soon, as some of its songs will doubtless be played at the gig.

Which brings us to now, and the release of A Grounding In Numbers, a title reflected in the concerns of the album, the passing of time, how life links to mathematical theory, but perhaps also a sly reference to their former sax honker, who, after the "classic" VDGG split the first time round became a Maths teacher - who knows?

The sound is much fuller than Trisector, which suffered by having several large Jaxon shaped aural holes, and for a bunch of guys in their 60s still retains some of the edginess of old, and Hugh Padgham's production is unfussy and clear. Do not expect manic Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers like sections though, as, like everyone else, they have mellowed with age. The structure of the album is different from previous albums too. The longest song is only 6'01", and their are 13 songs in all, spread over 50 or so minutes. VDGG make a pop album?

The album opens with Your Time Starts Now, a slow ballad ruminating on the way time passes at an ever increasing rate as we get older, and their ain't long left baby, so if you're gonna do it, do it now. Time is a  recurrent Hammill theme throughout his solo career in particular, and is not unsurprisingly reprised these days given his age and his health scares of a few years back, from which he has now thankfully fully recovered.

Next up is the wilfully obscure Mathematics, a gentle hymn to the beauty of the equation it would seem. Only Hammill could get away with a chorus that includes the line “e to the power of i times pi plus one is zero, e to the power of i times pi is minus one” like it was something Jedward might have come up with. It comes from something called "Euler's Identity", voted Best Equation Ever by readers of Marvel Comics in 1975, or.....possibly not!

Highly Strung is an autobiographical declamation, sonically a cousin of All That Before, making PH sound a million miles away from the gentle soul he comes across as in interviews. The closest thing to a pop song on the album, the verse lurches along like a man in danger of losing all motor control at any second. Marvellous! Red Baron, the first of two instrumentals on the album, allows one to turn off the lyric decipher control for a couple of minutes, before we're into Bunsho where the protagonist is too close to his art to be able to get a handle on it. As PH puts it "I can't see my stream." If you've ever written or created anything, even something as insignificant as this review, you'll know where this is coming from. Is its content "sublime" or just "workaday"? Musically I could imagine Peter Gabriel coming up with this number.

Following this is for me the best song on the album, Snake Oil, which has all the ingredients of a VDGG epic crammed into its 5'20", Ensemble rhythmic mastery to the fore, changing time signature on a whim and still making sense. Hugh Banton starts it off with a nostalgic Hammond (or a modern synthesis of that sound) led groove of the old school into a heavy slow stomping middle section, lyrically decrying the need to endlessly repeat a formula to appease the herd, the song seems to end about half way through, leaving the listener hung out to dry. A weird instrumental called Splink follows, some slide guitar with a atonal cyclical harpsicord (?) rising and then fading. Quite eerie.

The possibly also autobiographical Embarrassing Kid is a bit of mess to be frank and on first few listens seems a bit all over the shop. Guitar led it stumbles along in a semi coherent fashion, and being lyrically somewhat trite it's not the most compelling thing on the album. Medusa sets things back on track with a song much in the Hammill mode of menace. Mr Sands, theatrical code for announcing a fire alarm or similar without panicking the audience, as in PH's "Well Mr Sands is in the house, commotion in the stalls" is another highlight. With an intricate time signature, Banton sounds almost Emerson like, but in a far less bombastic fashion, if you can imagine that! Another proto-epic in the making.

Smoke is a cautionary tale about one's historical trail left on the internet, to an almost funky groove. You could dance to it if so inclined. This leads seamlessly into 5533 to keep in with the mathematical theme. I've absolutely no idea what this is about, perhaps someone can enlighten me? The album ends with All Over The Place, a tale of lost identity and disillusion. Musically fairly quiet and reflective, slowly building on the rising keyboards of Hammill and Banton, it provides a sombre end to an album that for VDGG is a somewhat low key effort.

One notices that, like the last two albums, PH's lyrics on some of these songs are far less intricate, and dare I say it, obscure than those on solo albums over the same period and on VDGG albums pre-reformation. Perhaps he is deliberately attempting to make VDGG more accessible than in the past, although having said that, songs like Mathematics & 5533 are as left field as he ever was. Musically this is the most restrained I've heard the band. Perhaps they are at last comfortable in their own skin rather than itching to get out as in the past?

Don't buy this if you're expecting another Pawn Hearts or Godbluff or Still Life. If you look on the 21st century VDGG as a separate entity then you'll not be over-egging the expectation pudding. Better than Trisector, I'm hoping this will continue to grow on me.

VDGG have a problem, not that they probably see it this way. Fans of the two mainstream mega successful bands who could be said to have reignited the prog rock flame over recent years, Radiohead and Muse, are not going to be buying this in droves. Curious youngsters who delve into their dad's and (gulp) grandad's record collections and are intrigued by VDGG may be tempted, but those few aside the market for the new VDGG largely remains with their old fans. Perhaps they are shining examples of that hoary old muso cliché..."We make the the music we like, if anyone else likes it then that is a bonus." Not that I'm complaining, having missed them first time round, tomorrow I'll see them live for the third time since the reformation, and long may it continue!

3.5 out of 5

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Pineapple Thief - Camden Underworld, London, 19th March 2011

Last night saw a trip to the capital for a gig by The Pineapple Thief in cosmopolitan Camden Town, a place for which the word "bustling" is woefully inadequate.

After a leisurely drive down the M1 enforced by 20 odd miles of 50 mph speed limit restrictions, then straight down the A1, then A400 we arrive in Camden, and park in the street, for free! A simpler journey to the heart of North London I have never witnessed. Fortified by a rather good Chinese meal, we enter the Underworld, which, as it's name suggests, is underneath a cavernous pub called The World's End.

Support act Godsticks, a guitar/bass/drums trio augmented by electric piano on the laptop served up some heavily Zappa influenced almost fusion styled noise, the two guitarists playing some neat syncopation. Not bad at all.

After a short break The Pineapple Thief appear. If you have been following this blog, you'll know that I consider this band should be playing far larger venues than 500 or so capacity clubs like this. Their sound is so suited to bigger venues that if you close your eyes it's easy to imagine you are in a 5000 seater concert hall.

They open with uptempo rocker God Bless The Child. The sound is loud but not distorted at all - a difficult thing to achieve in a cavern like this. Following up with another rocker, the should-be-a-stadium-anthem and autobiographical 3000 Days, the place is now starting to jump. Wake Up The Dead could do just that in this dark cellar of a place. After a couple more numbers there follows an acoustic led section in the middle of the gig, with Counting The Cost and Part Zero slowing things down, crashing back in with the neat electronics backed Preparation For Meltdown followed by the single Show A Little Love which is the only song on last year's Someone Here Is Missing that doesn't do much for me anymore, but the crowd loved it. The final two numbers in the main set prove to be the highlight. So We Row builds from its staccato beat start through an almost ballad like middle section before bubbling synths hint at the psychedelic meltdown to come, slowly slowly building with waves of space noise, the back beat unerring, echoed vocals, here it comes...Bruce's guitar is then attacked with gusto, side stage photographers competing for the best shot. The song quiets down " a place where no-one makes a sound." Give this man Bono's stage! Bloody marvellous. Finally we have the 15 minute Too Much To Lose which gives Bruce the chance to show his guitar off to best effect, with a wall of noise crescendo guided from the ether by Gilmour, Page, Cobain and Neil Young. It's a tough beast that Strat, it was still alive at the end, protesting through a wail of angry feedback. Rock and indeedy, Roll!!

The band disappear backstage for a brief towelling down before reappearing for the inevitable encores. At this point I'd like to say that rhythm section Jon Sykes (bass, vocals) & Keith Harrison (drums, harmony vocals) were as tight as a gnat's chuff throughout, enabling Steve Kitch (keyboards, effects) & Bruce Soord (aforementioned mangled Strat and lead vocals) to extemporise with great effect.

The first encore was Nothing At Best, a "put your gladrags on, we're hitting the town" kind of song, followed by Snow Drops a slower paced song which gives the crowd a breather before ending with some nice melodic soloing from Bruce. The show ended with Light Up Your Eyes starting slowly and building to an anthemic end, another "stadium" moment. Bono & Edge, get outta da way! After nearly two hours of fine entertainment we stagger out into the buzzing surroundings of Camden Town and make our way home. A great evening was had by all.

If you get the chance, see the band on their current tour. They are also playing as support to Blackfield (one of Steve Wilson's many side projects) for a few dates soon, so me and PW will be lucky enough to see them again in a couple of weeks. Bring it on!

I must get a mobile phone with a better camera!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Blow Up Hollywood - Collections

Since 2002's self titled debut, Blow Up Hollywood have been releasing wonderful paens to love, life and loss, with a healthy side of order of strange ambient soundscapes thrown in for good measure. They've even tackled the dreaded concept album in their time. It's nigh on impossible to pigeonhole this enigmatic band, as they never stand still long enough for that dull journo habit. Blow Up Hollywood is one of the more interesting places to visit in the ever expanding map of underground music, thanks to the joys of the world wide web opening up communication around the ever shrinking globe. Leader Steve Messina now decries the information overload we all suffer and harks for a return to good old fashioned one-on-one communication. I kind of agree with him, but you have to remember that were it not for the internet, I for one would probably never have come across this great band.

As the title of this new album may suggest, this is a collection of songs, instrumentals and soundscapes that never made it onto previous albums. As such it covers the spectrum of their ever evolving sound, from the sometimes Floydian stylings of instrumentals NCK & JCK to Steve's haunting piano and the lived in voice of Kim Wayman on Crash and Slow Down, both songs of warning, the almost free jazz of Cello_Piano_Radio_Woodwind to the avant soundscapes of Caged and More Caged (no prizes for guessing the influences on those two!). When It's Over is what might be seen as the closest thing to defining the group's early sound, where Steve sings another poignant song of loss and regret, one to spin when you need a moment of quiet reflection. NCK starts on an acoustic guitar refrain leading into some soaring lead lines - a truly uplifting piece of music. The instrumental For Jessica shows the band's love of cello as lead instrument and is another fine introspective piece of writing. Kitty Kite reprises a great song from the first album that is borne away on winds in the night. The album closes with Sweet Memory which is a heartachingly sad song again apparently about loss.

What might sound like a disjointed album as it crosses through so many styles is anything but. It may be dark, it may be sad, and it is certainly not commercial, but it is also beautiful.

Why not investigate the band and their philosophy further on their website where you can buy this and their other fine releases. I assure you that you will not be disappointed

4 out of 5

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Light Year - Reveal The Fantastic

Formed in 1974, Light Year were what seems to be a short lived fusion band operating out of the Bay Area of San Francisco. After support slots with the likes of The Tubes, the band's attempts to secure a record contract culminated in a showcase gig that had  "....record executives exiting the club en masse with their hands over their ears" according to their biog.

From what I've heard they certainly did not deserve such treatment, as they serve up a potent stew of jazz fusion music that fair belts along. A highly competent ensemble featuring the diverse talents of Cornelius Williams (piano), Zak McGrath (drums), Randy Sellgren (guitars), John Yu (bass), Doug Johnson (percussion, marimba, vibes, etc) and the soaring vocals of Sharon Pucci.

This album, a posthumous collection of recordings finally seeing the light of day some 36 years after the event, kicks off with a crash and Giant Babies sees some furious guitar work from Randy and is an indication that if, like me, jazz fusion ticks all your right boxes, we're in for a treat. Sharon's melancholy lines in this song based around the refrain "Don't forget my love" do not prepare you for the outpourings of her soaring larynx on the next song, Zada. Some of you may be familiar with the renowned UK jazz singer Cleo Laine, and Sharon's voice, possibly starting from a higher point, puts me in mind of the British chanteuse. Probably the best vehicle for Sharon on the album is the poignant penultimate song The World, a lovely piece of work. She also gets to do some reasonable scat singing, especially on Buggy Cadavers (Nirvana would have killed for a song title like that!).

The rest of the band certainly get to show their chops, which are up there with the best fusion bands of the 70s. Think Return To Forever meets Zappa at his jazziest, with a bit of Etheridge era Soft Machine thrown in for good measure. Buggy Cadavers features Doug Johnson, who gets to hit all manner of vibes and similar instruments. The Nocturnal Avenger Of Human Potential (another great title) might have been what Black Sabbath would have sounded like if their formative influences were jazz rather than blues. It rocks!
The last song, the 20 minute Aura/Open Any Windows is a tour de force of jazz rock stylings and has a distinctly Black Napkins feel to it in the first 10 minutes or so, no bad thing indeed! The second half of this epic features mucho percussion and some nice scatting by Sharon, before leading into a keyboard led improv.

Before I reviewed this album I had never heard of this band, and I can well see myself returning to the album again and again. If you're a fan of 70s jazz fusion, buy this and you won't be disappointed.

If you're in Europe buy it here..;id=3162;sid=7a8aa401ee20bc58e7a77aa0733fb15b

Or if you're in the USA buy it here...,K,L&M.htm

3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Faust - The Faust Tapes

Another in ""The formative years" series.

As a 13 year old in 1973 I had a meagre income from washing neighbours' cars and suchlike, but pocket money from Mum & Dad was in short supply. The financial necessity of having to feed the stirrings of what would become an all consuming vinyl habit by trawling through remainder bins in my local discount supermarket led to my purchasing some truly oddball classics that were far below any commercial radar. The average price of these albums as I recall was about 75p, which I could just afford. Most of those albums are now worth at least three figures now. I may have mentioned before that my best mate of the time had an older cousin who used to play us all sorts of strange aural delights, so these circumstances combined led me to taking a strange parallel musical journey alongside digging the usual mainstream rock and prog music of the time beloved of my peers.

In that same year a certain Richard Branson was beginning to make a healthy living from his new record label Virgin Records on the back of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, and they began a short series of bargain releases promoting the more obscure artistes of the time. One of these albums was The Faust Tapes by German band Faust, whom I naively thought then were pronounced "Forst". I was only 13, that's my excuse! Extensively advertised in the NME (my bible for alt music of choice, and faaaar cooler than the starched shirt collar that was Melody Maker, it's main rival) as an album for the price of a single, then 49p - how could I resist?

Rushing home with this enigmatic looking record housed in a simple b&w sleeve the front cover boasting waveforms inside a square standing on one of its corners (Bridgit Riley's The Quest)...

...and a series of quotes and reviews in newspaper column style on the back, with no track listing, only left me more curious.

Although I had heard snatches of Faust on the John Peel show - very lo-fi, one ear-piece, under the covers - nothing prepared me for the sonic assault that would emanate from the Dansette when I got it home. The album ranks even now as having some of the oddest sound sequences I've ever heard. From the moment the stylus hit the vinyl I was hooked. A lifelong obsession, first with what was known as "Krautrock" and latterly with all things sonically complex and/or off-kilter, was about to begin.

Not actually recorded as an album as such, The Faust Tapes is a compilation drawn from hundreds of hours of tapes laid down at the band's Wumme studios, the same tapes also being the source of their first two albums "Faust" & "So Far" for their former label Polydor gmbH, who, for reasons best known to themselves, thought they had signed the German Beatles. Polydor gmbH threw thousands of Deutschmarks at the band so they could build a studio and come up with the German Sgt Pepper. I think they may have been a wee bit surprised with what was delivered to them to release! After the first two albums flopped bigtime the band were duly kicked off Polydor gmbH and out of Wumme studios. Bolstered by the patronage of the inevitable John Peel, Virgin took a gamble on the band who arrived at the label armed with the tape reels. Needing something to whet the punters' appetite The Faust Tapes was the result.

The album opens with what sounds like an attempt to hit all the keys of a piano at the same time, which if nothing else grabs one's attention. This abruptly cuts into some rhythmic shouting and percussioning, and then we're at the first song proper, the lazily atmospheric piano led Flashback Carouso* whose mad cut & paste lyrics include such phrases as "Inside a stone of cream there is a language, Bring our minds together press them tight". Exercise With Voices follows, sounding like the formative rumblings of a bad trip, then the crazy "J'ai Mal Aux Dents" (My Teeth Hurt) which lurches along like a determined drunk stumbling along a train corridor, a hugely catchy chord pattern repeated ad infinitum with mucho sax blowing. The song slides into a psychedelic wig out over the revised repeated refrain of "Schempal Buddah, ship on a better sea". Who cares what that means, it's fab! Ending abruptly, we are now in what seems to be a German café listening to the German speaking clock, then, without warning we are hurtling along on a Teutonic subway, or that's my impression anyway! Several more bizarre soundscapes roll past featuring church organs, treated pianos, sundry found sounds, tape effects - it's as mad as a spoon, or Lewis Carroll on bad acid. There's one part with slowed down and speeded up voices, road drills and a church organ that is the stuff of nightmares. Suddenly, a tune, but only for a mere 48 seconds, natch. There's so much going on here it's hard to keep up, and remember, they did all this without the aid of digital editing. We're now up to "Untitled - All on saxes" which is laid back cacophony, followed by an "Untitled" piece starring recorded thunderstorms and heavily treated guitar noodlings, all highly charged and atmospheric. Rudolf Sosna, who is credited with writing the few actual songs up to this point, then gets to lay some lounge jazz piano on us, and then we're back on the cosmic underground train, coming back up for air in this strange land as multi-coloured skies drift by in a torpid fashion. I know, let's have some proto-Clangers noises but a couple of octaves lower and slow them down to a stop...reprise the treated guitarisms, and round off this strange thing with three songs! Stretch Out Time is probably the most "normal" thing here, you could almost dance to it, after a fashion. The final two songs are both written by the only non-German in the band, Jean-Hervé Peron. Der Baum (The Tree) with a sort of More period Floyd feel has lyrics that make sense for once, not that it matters "See her lying on the grass, Must be a nice feeling for her ass" indeedy. Finally we have Cherè Chambre - a spoken word stream of consciousness poem in French, over some lovely acoustic guitar picking.

Breathless now? I certainly was on first listen, and although the album is, some almost 40 (!) years later, very familiar to me, I still hear new things in it. I've attempted and probably failed to do it justice with my ramblings above, but you really need to hear it to fully appreciate its stunning uniqueness. The ever enquiring Julian Cope loved it while according to legend, future "Rock Star" Jim Kerr used it as a frisbee. Says it all really!

True musicologists may say Stockhausen and music concrete is where this is coming from, but Faust have a playfulness absent from that serious scene. Best listened to on headphones in the dark for full frightening effect, and not for the unadventurous! If you take the plunge and like it go back to "Faust" & "So Far" for more of the same, but, in my opinion they are not as good as this monstrous construct.

5 out of 5

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Radiohead - King Of Limbs

Firstly, let's make one thing clear - I'm not a Radiohead fan(atic) - they inspire a kind of mad devotion along the lines of the equally deranged Dr Who-ists (or Trekkies for our American friends) that I just don't get. I like the band sometimes, that's it.

In my humble opinion OK Computer, if not in my all time top 10 albums, is certainly in the the top 20. It had everything- tunes, rock, vast swathes of emotion, weirdness, roll, the kitchen sink. Since then - jeez was it really 13 years ago?! - they've gone all experimental and, dare I say it self-indulgent, and with the largely failed noodlings present on Kid A and Amnesiac they have shown themselves to be ambitious certainly, but maybe lacking in the chops to carry it off. To make truly inspiring experimental music you have to have either an intuitive musical genius, or be highly technically proficient, or in very rare cases both. Look no further than the unsurpassable Can of the 1970s for that elusive mixture.

Radiohead returned from the brink with a couple of decent if underwhelming albums in Hail To The Thief and then the "controversial" In Rainbows. Both had their moments but have not been returned to that often in chez moi. An obsession with Aphex Twin style rhythm tracks persists to this day, and the new album suffers for it. Does Phil Selway still own a drum kit?

Opener Bloom sets the scene for the album and exists in an eerie abstract soundscape that will come to define the album. It's the kind of thing Elbow might come up with, but with an Afro beat twist. "Open your mouth wide" intones Thom, "Don't blow your mind with why" - a noble sentiment. There's some nice instrumentation on this track and although it never gets beyond a kind of loud ambience it's probably the most in-yer-face thing here.

The second track Morning Mr Magpie is dominated by the kind of Richard D James ants-in yer-pants rhythmic wibbling that I can find irritating, but this does actually bubble along quite nicely. Little By Little actually has guitars as dominant instrument, but don't get carried away, it's only in an idling along fashion, with a bit of syncopation that never really gets out of second gear. Lyrically this is a typical Thom-doom piece, right on down to "The pit of my soul". The track threatens to break out but never does, in fact the whole album so far has built on layers of increasing tension, leading one to expect that the next number will release some of this angst, but of course it doesn't! The instrumental Feral features the most Aphex Twin-like jiggling about so far, and is bloody annoying to these ears. You realise by now that there will likely be no uplifting anthemic moments to be had on this album, not that that is necessarily a bad thing.

Lotus Flower features yet more Afro-Melt rhythms and has an accompanying video of Thom throwing shapes which is actually more interesting than the song in my opinion. Next up are the two best songs on the album. Codex is a simple but gorgeous piano led Thom piece of soul bearing that works really well, it brings a sigh from the listener as the previous tension is dispelled, but not in the manner you might expect or maybe are nostalgic for. Following this is the beautiful Give Up Ghost with the mantra "Don't haunt me" repeated over the main lyric and some nu-folk strumming. The tension now completely dissipated, the album closes with Separator, Thom reckons "It's like I'm falling out of bed from a long, weary dream" and the music sounds like the outpourings of a group on a collective comedown.

If you forget the Radiohead of 10 or more years ago and accept that this is what they sound like NOW, then it's not a bad album. Despite the occasionally annoying over reliance on electronic wibbling, it's ok, but not OK Computer! It's no way a case of instant gratification, but it's definitely a grower.

3 out of 5

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