Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been assiduously listening to two recent post-Klaxons albums, nominally of the nu-rave stable: Late Of The Pier‘s Fantasy Black Channel, and Friendly Fires‘ eponymous debut. Though both albums hinge on the elision of rock and dance music, I’ve come to the perhaps inevitable conclusion that, whereas the latter album benefits greatly on its commitment to sparkly pop music, the former eventually frazzles out on a wave of unwavering madness and sonic freakery that is just too much to handle.
Friendly Fires is a fascinating piece of work: only one song cross the 4-minute mark; everything is succinctly polished and pristine, and yet it was recorded in frontman Ed Macfarlane’s parents’ garage on a microphone gaffer-taped to a stand. The music is relentlessly energetic, but in a joyous, bubbly way – it never sounds comically overblown or hedonistic. The synth sweeps and throbs and kept in check by delightfully gushing vocals and beautiful guitar lines. It doesn’t feel brash, more plain confident. A particular highlight emerges at the tail-end of Lovesick, where the standard formula segues into the formative strains of a trance breakdown. Magically, after half a minute, it fades out again for a reprise of the original chorus. It’s this minimalism and concision that keeps the album consistently enjoyable and manageable.
The same can’t really be said of Fantasy Black Channel, which is, much like the title suggests, a lot of everything, crammed into stupendously complex song structures, and beaten over the head with Erol Alkan’s frequently disturbing synth gurgles. It’s enjoyable, but only in tiny doses, after which it quickly becomes grating, deafening and slightly ridiculous. It’s in the band’s worship of everything 80s, from Gary Numan to Van Halen, that in the end sounds superfluous and messy, as if instead of keeping distinct ideas to distinct songs, the band have instead elected to shove them all into one. There are definite high-points on the album, but they are more likely to be individual hooks or breakdowns, which are weighed down by a lot of searing synth flab and fat, which effectively fries the record, and possibly also the record player.
The 80s is set to dominate British musical output for the rest of the year, but it’s clear to me that only when bands keep the influences in check, and settle instead for that decade’s shininess and gloss does the idolatry succeed. When the camp, overblown excesses of the 80s drag the music into an abyss of dark matter, it just sounds a bit ridiculous.