Perhaps Late of the Pier’s Sam Potter said it best when he described the band’s sound as follows: “The minute you think it’s one thing, it’s the exact opposite.”
Fantasy Black Channel, the British fourpiece’s long-awaited debut, is at once strangely familiar and like nothing you’ve ever heard. Although perhaps too far-reaching in its influences and ideals to become popular with mainstream America, the album is certainly poised to become a favorite for open-minded music heads who like their rock spiked with a heavy dose of the electronic.
The recipients of massive amounts of attention in the U.K. (where the album was released last August), Late of the Pier are perhaps best known for three things: (a) being mentored by British DJ/producer-extraordinaire Erol Alkan, who produced Fantasy Black Channel, (b) getting name-checked as favorites of peers including Soulwax, Midnight Juggernauts, the Faint, and Kaiser Chiefs, and (c) putting on some ridiculously high-energy, all-hands-in-the-air-all-feet-off-the-ground live performances. Though critics have bandied about terms like “retro future,” “indie-electro-dance-glam-post-punk,” or (gag) “nu rave” in trying to put a finger what Fantasy Black Channel sounds like, there really isn’t a word or phrase that works — probably because such a word or phrase hasn’t yet been invented.
Listen carefully to Fantasy Black Channel, as the journey is slightly different with each listen. Every surreal note smacks with the infectious energy and vigor of youth, yet Late of the Pier’s musical proficiency and mélange of influences definitely belie their tender ages (early 20s). Sam Eastgate’s impressive vocals vary wildly, though lyrical sentiment generally portrays an existential, vaguely gloomy mood — see lines like “Suicide is in my blood/ It always was” from “Space & the Woods” and “Whenever I’m there/You give me a stare/ Breaking my heart in two” from “Focker.”
“The Bears Are Coming,” with its clankety-clanking on unconventional objects, sounds deliciously like what the Teddy Bears’ Picnic might sound like fueled by Red Bull and psychedelics. “Random Firl” hooks you immediately with its epic guitar riff, then entrances with its children’s musicbox-like chimes. Initially one of the tracks I liked least on the album, “The Enemy Are the Future,” has, with a few listens, actually become one of my favorites, with its mid-song metamorphosis from gentle acoustic-folkish anthem into an urgent, menacing space jam (with, of course, a bunch of other stuff in-between).
The sublime “Bathroom Gurgle” is perhaps most schizophrenic of all, starting off with an insistent, addictive beat and Eastgate urging you to “Find yourself a new boy,” next alternating between periods of bluesy Robert Plant-esque wailing and synthy glam-rock chanting, and finally losing its shit (in a good way) with the boys working themselves into an exorcistic frenzy.
Bonus tracks on the U.S. version include the fine Emperor Machine remix of “The Bears Are Coming” and “Very WAV.” The latter, bassist Faley says, “isn’t even a song — it’s actually an old demo of ‘Random Firl,’ a very, very old demo of ‘White Snake,’ and something else kind of all stitched together into this six- or seven-minute thing.” But like the rest of the record, it’s well-worth a listen.