Review Summary: Best in the class, indeed
Genres and musical trends come and go. It's a simple fact of culture. I'm sure the days for specific subgenres such as chillwave and noisecore are numbered, but for now, let's talk about nu-rave. With the Klaxons performing their "last headline tour" only over a month ago, the last footmen of this movement have moved on to other projects. It's hard to believe that Klaxons were the recipients of the Mercury Prize in 2007. It's even harder to believe that they will be the band that will likely define the nu-rave genre. Yes, Myths of the Near Future was an audacious, colors-outside-the-lines debut, but it came with the inconsistencies that mark a band that people best know for their singles. This distinction does not hold, however, for Late of the Pier's only LP, Fantasy Black Channel.
Fronted by Sam Eastgate (who now has a solo project, La Priest), this band released a debut whose frenetic pacing and energy was matched by its impeccable songwriting and untamed exploration, and more importantly, FBC sounds just as vibrant today as it did seven years ago. Opening prelude Hot Tent Blues sets the tone, with its battery-acid guitar line building and throbbing as its leads into Broken, a song that works its guitar squawks, frantic drum fills, and icy synths into a strangely danceable groove. Guitars are (mostly) sidelined for Space and the Woods, a glowstick rave with the best synth riff Gary Numan never wrote. Eastgate's lyrics, while mostly oblique throughout the album, come to the fore here: "Put on my radiation suit and slip away/ I'm on the run from what I've become...And I know/ They don't owe me anything/ Not after what I've done". These themes of self-doubt and identity juxtapose nicely against the pulsing of the instrumental.
If this sounds like a band merely wearing its 80's influences proudly on its sleeves, songs like The Bears Are Coming and Focker will simultaneously challenge and engross the eardrums. The former rides tribal percussion and a squelching synth line alongside Eastgate's ruminations: "So consumed were we/ by the thought of what could never be!" However, the song bursts open in the last third, its 80's video-game sound effects laden atmosphere at odds with the folksy lyric "I saw you wad-ing in the water!" Finally joined by a downright giddy but slightly abrasive guitar line, the song justifies its left turns and stands as a highlight of the album. Focker, on the other hand, throws a surprising number of curveballs into its short three minute duration. Starting with dueling synth and guitar lines that grind against each other, the song's relentless first half has a key change thrown in as the song threatens to spiral out of control. And it almost does before slowing things down with a throbbing bass synth and a twinkly piano line holding things together. That relentless energy returns towards the end, however, with a synth and rhythm section that gets the feet moving and getting the DJs vying to remix it (and Boyz Noise did, as a matter of fact). It's a song that could fall victim to its cut-and-paste mentality and meshing of musical styles, but succeeds by virtue of its indelible melodies and rhythm.
The lynchpin of the album comes at the end with the song Bathroom Gurgle. The title is the best way to describe the anxious synth that opens the song. The song continues to add tense synths in its first third before the song explodes in dramatic fashion, with hot synths flowing underneath Eastgate's indecipherable vocal line before the band pays homage to Devo with a serious hook and the best ridiculous call to the dancefloor: "And get down/and get out/ like a mother***ing trout!!" A few short minutes later, the song slowly dissipates away, not having allowed the listener a moment to pause or take a breath.
It's a shame that the band's last release was the excellent Best In The Class EP. They are artists that gracefully faded out almost as quickly burst onto the scene, equally displaying respect for their influences and pushing the limits of what nu-rave (in its limiting aethestic) could do. For every predictable notion such as power chords with crunch, Late of the Pier countered it with creepy jack-in-the-box synth lines (see the song Random Firl) or some other pleasantly unexpected element. Time will tell if Eastgate's solo project will match the output of his previous outfit, but for now in this author's mind, Fantasy Black Channel is the best output of the short-lived genre.