Monday, February 8, 2016

Flying Saucer Attack's "Instrumentals 2015": Music Review

Instrumentals 2015

Although it’s nearly an hour, the 15 songs on Flying Saucer Attack’s new album, Instrumentals 2015, rush by. Dave Pearce has recorded under the name Flying Saucer Attack for over 20 years. His previous records, the earliest of which he made with vocalist Rachel Brook, explored what he titled "rural psychedelia." Their album covers often showed haunted scenes, twilit or dark with little or no typography. This visual approach suits music that consists of spare arrangements with simple vocals and recurring arrangements of processed guitars. 

Pearce has always clung to a DIY aesthetic, combining an organic sensibility with layers of textures. He buries soft voices under feedback waves. Recording to cassette and CD-R, he captures a gritty, crumpled texture with a post-rock approach explores how far he can alter his guitar. 

His records in the ‘90s ranged from pastoral moods to manic loops of sound. During and after his partnership with Brook, Pearce insisted upon control over his production. He resisted the compact disc, giving in only to reach a wider audience than that for vinyl, in that transitional era before vinyl came back.

Mirror was the last in this series of experiments on CD. Released days after the new millennium, it signaled a shift. The cover’s garish borders swirled in psychedelic lettering and hinted at bolder, more unsettled contents, drum and bass jostled alongside folksy and ambient tunes. 

One might have hoped Flying Saucer Attack would continue along those lines, but Instrumentals is their first new release in 15 years, with a title that clearly explains the new approach. Pearce's soft voice is missed, his focus instead on effects-laden guitar washes and wisps. The tracks are titled only by number, forcing the listener to concentrate on the musical merit of pieces that range from elusive snippets and clouds of chords overlapping with studio wizardry to a 10-minute finale that lets Pierce’s signature space-rock to find its footing before floating off.

Most of the album’s early tracks come and go smoothly if less memorably, but the album picks up in the double-digits. “Instrumental 10” alternates a soaring sound and a metronomic repetition that suggests crickets. Simple but effective, this hearkens back to FSA's roots in Krautrock and drone.  “Instrumental 11” is more rhythmic and less meandering, while “Instrumental 14” stays catchy all the way through. But the problem remains that the brevity of many of these tracks doesn’t give the listener a chance to linger and get lost in the music.

The band is at their best on long songs where Pearce can build and sustain momentum, but this album’s many short tracks frustrate this pattern. Still, it's good to hear him again, even without vocals, and this may lead new audiences back to his best work in the ‘90s. (Spectrum Culture 9-

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