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EP Review: Klaxons – Landmarks of Lunacy [Polydor]

It took three and a half years for Klaxons to create the sophmore album that was 2010’s “Surfing the Void”, the space cat artworked follow-up to 2007’s “Myths of the Near Future”. While bands taking that long to come up with a new record isn’t that uncommon, what many didn’t hear about was the band’s failed attempt at recording their second record in the fall of 2008. They lined up Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford to produce the album and went to France to work with him. Upon completion of that album at the end of ’08, the band’s label listened to it and rejected it for being “too experimental”. An easier way to read into that was to say Klaxons, who had been saying prior to these recording sessions they were looking to move in a far more prog-rock and psychedelic direction on their new album, actually followed through and the result was a collection of songs that were hard to market. It sounded like a different band than the one that by themselves created the term “nu-rave” (a term they had grown to hate), and perhaps the biggest worry was that such a change in style would completely eradicate the solid fan base already built thanks to danceable cuts like “Golden Skans” and “From Atlantis To Interzone”. After the label’s rejection of their prog-rock opus, Klaxons then retreated back to the studio in late 2009 with new producer Ross Robinson to make “Surfing the Void”, a kinetic and loud record that was unique in how it skirted the line between dance record and psychedelic freak out. In other words, it was a compromise between band and label, one that worked out to relatively positively positive reviews but slightly diminished sales. Perhaps to try and pull in some extra good will, or just because they knew nothing would become of them anyways, this past Christmas, Klaxons bestowed upon us a free EP titled “Landmarks of Lunacy”. Posted on their website, it’s a set of 5 aborted songs from their sessions with James Ford that never saw the light of day.

You would think that with a member of Simian Mobile Disco behind the boards, making a fast-paced dance album would be pretty easy to do. That’s not what Klaxons had in mind on the songs that make up the “Landmarks of Lunacy” EP though, and they were true to their word in venturing out into much more psychedelic territory. There’s a certain calm and trippy atmosphere permeating these tracks, even if it doesn’t quite reach its full potential until the 7+ minute “Marble Fields” that closes the EP out. On the opening track “The Pale Blue Dot”, the booming drums seem to have dominance as most everything else is pretty sparse until the chorus hits home. That’s when the watery guitars make a bit of racket and veer off the reservation for some brief moments before getting back on track. The doubled over, often harmonized vocals work well in this case, matching well with your traditional oddball Klaxons lyrics referencing everything from a “terra rusty tone” to the “infinite being clouds”. That being said, the track is also just a little bit boring, primarily because it doesn’t have enough going on to justify the direction it takes. The same could be said for “Silver Forest”, though it does have a bit more going for it on a few different sides. The more liberal use of piano is nice, as are the echo effects applied to some of the vocals. The only thing missing from the song is tempo – were the pace to move about 1.5x faster than it currently is, a hit single would emerge. “Ivy Leaves” gets really out there, choosing to float in the ether of spacey electronic background noise as the vocals sit front and center. There’s not much in the way of a chorus while drum machine beats build and grow louder and more insistent to the point where they almost explode. Just when you expect the whole track to break wide open and skyrocket into this massive heavy guitar hook, the bottom drops out and you’re back to the quiet provided by that anti-gravity electro minimalism. It can come off like wasted potential, but there’s something to be admired in the restraint the band shows in such a situation. Guitars are entirely absent from “Wildeflowers”, a slow march that gets by on keyboards, a quivering organ-like instrument, and percussion that feels like it comes from banging around random kitchen objects at the same time. Thematically it’s in perfect alignment with the trippy vibe the EP is supposed to exude, but unlike the previous three tracks there’s little redemption to be found here. The melody stays almost exactly the same from start to finish while the chorus just doesn’t quite have the strength to stick with you long enough to be memorable. The singular track you’re sure to not forget on this five track ode to experimentation though is closing number “Marble Fields”. Pink Floyd is not a name to be referenced lightly, and to be clear Klaxons are no Pink Floyd, but were that seminal band to get back together and make a new record, “Marble Fields” might be what it’d sound like today. It is the one song that holds echoes of modern psychedelia through and through, with the band utilizing most everything in their arsenal to create this epic and rather exciting track. The opening piano line comes off as dark and paranoid, and then the fuzz-riddled guitar enters the picture and pushes that idea further into the “bad trip” scenario. There’s an uptick in the mood around the pretty catchy chorus, and the vocal harmonies and roundabout backing vocals are nothing short of impressive. Somewhere around 4 minutes in, the track begins its slow descent into overwhelming noise. Starting with a rather strong drum freak out, waves of guitars and electronic drone build up and wash over the vocals until they’re completely buried. The final minute sounds a whole lot like a person trying to sing underwater, just a whole bunch of nonsensical electronic gurgles. It’s a good thing the band chose to end with that, because you don’t really come back from it, with good reason.

Undoubtedly, Klaxons unleashed the “Landmarks of Lunacy” EP to see what kind of reaction these heretofore rejected songs would generate. The unfortunate truth seems to be that it was a wise move to not include them on the band’s second record. That’s not to say there isn’t value in most of these songs or that the band needed to make something more marketable like they eventually wound up doing, but it’s more about the fine line between good and bad. There are so many great psych-pop records out there that don’t work on a verse-chorus-verse system or have a listener-friendly angle to them, Klaxons just haven’t created one of those. A couple of these tracks are great on paper and show all sorts of potential, but there’s always a thing or two they’re lacking to make them truly excellent. The lone exception is “Marble Fields”, which puts everything else to shame while proving the band has it in them to craft something both wildly experimental and engaging. If they could make an entire record with songs as great as the last one on this EP, that’d be worth putting out, record label be damned. As it stands, the band is handing you this entire EP as a free download, so paying absolutely nothing for it feels like the price is right. You may very well like or even grow to love some of these songs, meaning they’re worth at least listening to once out of curiosity. For those with the time and a bit of hard drive space to spare though, take the full download as there’s no harm in it. What can we expect from the next Klaxons record? It’s still way too early to speculate, but if songs like the sharply experimental ones on the “Landmarks of Lunacy” EP were originally intended for release back in 2008, we truly can’t tell what sort of headspace they’ll be in come 2011 or 2012.

Click here to download the full “Landmarks of Lunacy” EP

The Pale Blue Dot by klaxons

Silver Forest by klaxons

Ivy Leaves by klaxons

Wildeflowers by klaxons

Marble Fields by klaxons

Album Review: Klaxons – Surfing the Void [Polydor]

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.

Buy “Surfing the Void” from Amazon

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