Cardinal Fuzz (Europe)/ Captcha (North America)
The latest from the trio of Paul Allen (of longstanding and criminally under-exposed Bristolian psych-rockers The Heads), Gareth Turner and Jesse Webb (both of Big Naturals).
The track titles are a selection of place names and dates (“14.10.54 Southend-on-Sea”, “17.7.55 Bexleyheath”) referencing several decades’ worth of UFO sightings around the UK. However, the tracks themselves don’t bear any obvious relationship to these signifiers of time, place, and event – there’s no sense that any given piece is attempting to capture or convey anything about the specific incident for which it’s titled. In fact, what you really have here is two long pieces of the stoney-droney-spacey stuff
, divided somewhat arbitrarily into nine tracks that blur into each other.
It begins in a smeared, low-end miasma with an eerie, robot-like female voice reciting a list of numbers – possibly sampled from The Conet Project
? – but soon enough we’re into the expected cosmic hairy freakout territory, with nods to early Hawkwind
and Ash Ra Tempel
, except the thing that really separates this from its most obvious musical ancestors is the production. Throughout the album, everything that happens is shrouded in an oppressive muffling electronic fog. It never lifts – the overall effect is something akin to being lost at night on a vast moor, wandering through clammy mists while somewhere in the distance a crew of grungy psychedelic desperadoes are playing sprawling night-time jams on a makeshift stage
. From what you can catch of them, as you blunder around in the murk, it sounds pretty good, but you can’t always hear them that well, so you end up spending half the time being impressed by the strange sonic effects that this combination of circumstances is producing, and half the time wishing you could just hear the band properly.
Thus there are passages that sound like an inspired cross-fertilisation of ’70s kosmische with more contemporary post-rock experimentalism, as somewhere behind the wall of sleep the guitar emits jagged squalls of cheese-grater noise and the drums beat out a ghostly clatter. But equally there are other sections, particularly towards the end, where Anthroprophh build driving, throbbing intergalactic grooves that would probably sound amazing if only they were allowed to emerge from the ever-present cloud of murk. You wait in vain, however, for the cathartic release of that imagined dayglo sunburst: the claustrophobic fog never once disperses.
It’s hard to avoid the feeling that this album is essentially an extended jam with a thick soup of effects ladled on top, then served as is with a vague spooky/spacey concept tacked on. Some of it sounds great – indeed some of it seems to point towards a genuinely novel take on the well-worn tropes of space rock
– but you do wish they’d taken a little more time to finesse the thing, to add some light and shade and colour, before they called it a night and retired for that celebratory bong. At its best, though, the skewed oddness of the “effects in the foreground, band in the background” approach makes for some intriguing sonic excursions, conjuring a haunted, disorientating atmosphere that should repay repeated listening for some time to come.
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