How many times have you heard the word “nu-rave” used? Unless you’re a member of the band Klaxons, you’ve probably not caught more than a few mentions of it in passing, if at all. It seems that when Klaxons first appeared on the music scene, their intensely danceable rock music was indefinable to the point where they had to create a new word to more easily describable. Many suspected that with this hot new band and their debut album “Myths of the Near Future”, a whole load of copycats would emerge and the nu-rave genre would thrive under that guise. While Klaxons may have reached strong levels of popularity across Europe, Americans were not so quick to embrace the band and they didn’t quite grow to the point where their sound became a jumping off point for others. And as nu-rave never became a whole “thing”, the label itself can die a quick and painless death, so we can simply define Klaxons’ sound as being…Klaxons. Want more proof of that? Give a listen to their new sophmore album “Surfing the Void” and try to place it under an easily definable genre label. It’s tough, and that’s a big part of the band’s charm.
In preparing for “Surfing the Void”, Klaxons got typically tempramental when it came to choosing a producer. After recording with several different people and coming away largely disillusioned and unsatisfied with the results, the band finally settled on Ross Robinson, who’s doesn’t typically produce anything other than heavy rock and roll records. As a result, “Surfing the Void” is quite a bit more guitar-heavy than its predecessor, but not to the point where you could call it a full-on rock record. It’s all over the stylistic map, and of course that’s a big reason why Klaxons are still their own unique breed of music. Those going into this new album hoping for something similar to the band’s debut will more than likely be disappointed. You can’t dance to most of the tracks, though there are plenty of fist-pumping, liberation anthems that will get your blood up and stay with you for a surprisingly long time. There’s nothing quite as brilliant or catchy as “Golden Skans”, but if you liked the punky energy of a track like “Atlantis to Interzone”, there’s a host of new songs with that Pixies-esque quality (it’s almost as if “Venusia” is the band’s attempt to recreate “Velouria” in an original way). The brash, spitfire approach is pretty effective on the whole, though it does take away ever so slightly from the band’s ability to throw a stylistic wild card at you as they’ve pulled in the past. In that sense it’s also a little easier to figure out if you’re going to like “Surfing the Void” by simply listening to a couple tracks. Yet it’s also an album’s album, in that the individual songs are most effective and enjoyable when listened to in the context of the whole thing. Album opener “Echoes” is the perfect entry point anyways, one of the best singles on the record and a great introduction to where the band is at stylistically these days.
Where Klaxons are at lyrically is pretty much the same spot they’ve been in all along. There’s a sharp marriage between the poetically smart and just plain oddball, to the point where you’ll often find yourself wondering exactly what the hell they’re talking about. You’re best off just ignoring any potential “meanings” and just going with the flow, same as any attempts to truly define Klaxons’ sound. Unfortunately, “Surfing the Void” doesn’t exactly continue to paint the solid picture of a band on the rise. Of course it also doesn’t indicate they’re standing still or complacent either. Instead it’s more like Klaxons are still wrestling with what they want out of their sound. They’re continuing to try new things and are pushing themselves within certain respectable limits, but largely they don’t take it far enough. The songs may still have dynamite hooks and are enjoyable to listen to, but there are moments when Klaxons start to feel like little more than an above-average alt-rock band. Hopefully their next record will offer something of a course correction – not necessarily back to the aborted nu-rave genre, but maybe in an entirely new direction that both works well with what they’ve previously done yet remains undeniably Klaxons. The music on “Surfing the Void” might not be as timeless as we could have hoped, but that album cover most definitely is.