Standard Planets - Self-Titled

Owain Paciuszko 02/12/2010

Rating: 3/5

Opening track Tramadol begins as a sleazy, bluesy grinding riff that is gradually soaked in ever dirtier layers of fuzz, working well as a minimal and moody instrumental it comes as a surprise when vocals pipe up half way through, not quite adding the expected flavour to the mix, and whilst not wrecking what went before the track works better when the music is left alone, or with the addition of subtle, creepier choral vocals. With flat chimes and distant organs the track draws towards a suitably menacing, regal close.

Startled flurries of violin open Squeky brilliantly, intermingled with retro-computer synths and a burbling processed percussion line, as the vocals enter rattling out a uptempo mantra (that seems to revolve around the lyrics 'Music theory'?) it's again a slight dampener on the pleasing instrumentation weaving around it, but the second time those vocals occur the growing bassline rising in the mix lends a sense of urgency edging this track towards the kind of teasing electro-wig-outs that Fuck Buttons specialise in. Unfortunately it never breaks out into the limb-flailing explosion it hints out, instead turning into a grimy Depeche Mode-like sombre section, slowing the pace down to an industrial strut with the lyrics 'One times one' repeated over and over in sombre tones.

An ornate gypsy-folk elegance opens + (-), a strange The Magnetic Fields-esque ballad with space age synths rising feverishly in the distance and Ben Webster's vocal working as a good counterpoint to the light and playful musical backdrop that throws in all manner of aural curiosities to consistently delightful effect. It's a left turn for the record that shows an intriguing first peek at the band's versatility, marrying their experimental sonic sounds to something that feels pulled from a fairy-tale. They remain in this creaky, mysterious territory for the sublte opening minutes of their 'band theme song' Standard Planets; a slow burning quagmire of doom-laden synths and twinkling melodica with despairing wailed vocals, that is eventually joined by a gloriously swaggering drum-line giving it an air of defiance and arrogance that makes the listener want to strut around in slow motion. It squeaks and squeals like an old gate, huge washes of guitar flowing against big rock drum rolls before the whole thing turns - shockingly - into a synth heavy uptempo number that sounds like the theme music to a long lost 1980s cop show; and the band seem well aware of this with arch lyrics listing; 'Sierra tango alpha' etc. Unfortunately, wry smirks aside, this lyrical inclusion detracts from the brilliance of the music around it, that ebbs and flows into all manner of territories (even sounding like cheesy pop track Superman by Black Lace at one point).

Electromagnetic is a disappointingly bland thundering procession of synths ascending and descending over a flaccid processed beat, with intermittent bursts of maudlin vocals swamped in reverb. It sounds like the unholy union between the Tron and The Matrix soundtracks, which is probably more of a compliment than it might deserve! Regeneration doesn't do much to improve things, sure it's got a nice jazzy musical backdrop, but the vocals sound unfortunately similar to The Mighty Boosh's spoof electro band Kraftwerk Orange.

Closing track Falopia Japonica begins with echoing guitars and hollered lyrics that become swamped by the ominous throb of bassy synths, it's a strange and orantely crafted number that drifts along with a spiritual quality as if through the halls of a neon-lit haunted house. It manages to develop its fairground rhythms into something reasonably grand and climatic, with slower epic sequences jostling against throbbing aggressive guitar breakdowns and a joyously bonkers electro drum-n-bassy tangent that draws the track to a close.

Early tracks on this record show a wealth of promise that isn't quite realised as the album continues, a few times they produce a slow-burn track that takes you down a number of intriguing little diversions, but sometimes there seems to be a pressure to fill their music with too many elements and, often, vocals need to be worked in with more subtlety or removed altogether. Still, an interesting and varied LP.