We’ve scarcely heard from Max Tundra, the chosen nom de plume of Londoner Ben Jacobs, since he released his most recent album, in 2002. Apparently he’s spent most of this time becoming intimate with an ancient Commodore Amiga 500 computer, on which he recorded much of this album. The fetishization of old equipment is nothing new, of course, but Jacobs isn’t interested in regurgitating the past. Instead, he uses the Amiga to advance his singular pop vision, which has remained utterly distinct since its conception on 2000’s Some Best Friend You Turned Out To Be.
As with previous Max Tundra records, Jacobs seems obsessed with the process of making music. References to equipment (on the track “Nord Lead Three”) and post-production (in the lyrics to “The Entertainment”) abound, and his 2002 album was snappily titled Mastered by Guy at the Exchange. His sounds often seem to be captured at the precise moment when an instrument has veered out of control and is on the verge of breaking down. Second track, the maniacal “Will Get Fooled Again,” is a perfect example of this. It clips along as a flustered pace, embodies flurries of fairground organ, and ends in great swirls of prog rock dementia.
There are few easy touchstones for Parallax Error Beheads You, although vocally Jacobs owes a debt to Green Gartside from Scritti Politti. The Max Tundra sound even appears to be driven by similar motivations to Gartside’s forays into the mainstream in the mid-1980s. Both artists are clearly infatuated by pop, but also keen to keep their underground sensibilities intact. “Which Song” could be lifted straight from Scritti’s Cupid and Psyche 85, a matchless album that few, if any, musicians have ever tried to emulate.
It often seems like the ideas are spilling out of Jacobs’s head at an uncontrollable pace. The track “Orphaned” is driven by a spasmodic keyboard riff that manages to cause relief when it ends but also provokes a strange urge to go back and play it all over again. He treads a fine line between the infuriatingly catchy and the infernally irritating, and he mostly manages to tip the balance in favor of the former rather than the latter.
Jacobs works in a peerless vacuum located in a hazy plot point on the pop timeline, located somewhere in-between outright sugary pop and nerdy bedroom electronica. “Number Our Days” and the epic closer “Until We Die” are the best examples of his craft. The former jolts back and forth between sweet pop and unbalanced psychopathy, occasionally sounding like the soundtrack to an ‘80s brat-pack movie gone horribly wrong. The latter is dizzying pop that splinters off at wildly unexpected angles, including a fractious guitar solo that suddenly gives way to becalming chill out sounds. It’s a fitting conclusion to this magnificently unpredictable record. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take Jacobs another six years of Amiga twiddling to produce its follow-up.