Pram - Across The Meridian - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Pram - Across The Meridian

by Sean Hewson Rating:10 Release Date:2018-07-20
Pram - Across The Meridian
Pram - Across The Meridian

Across The Meridian is Pram’s first album in 11 years. It’s their 8th album of original material since they formed in the Moseley area of Birmingham in 1988. There was a bit of a scene there in the 90s that also included Broadcast. Pram have recorded for Too Pure and, since 1998, for Domino. They split in 2008 but have been back together since 2016 (albeit without singer/keyboardist Rosie Cuckston). Although we are of a similar vintage, this is the first Pram album that I have heard. It will not be the last.

Shimmer and Disappear starts with a jaunty trombone line that could be from a Caravan album. However, it is soon joined by a bewildering array of instruments, including theremin, sax and some other harder to identify sounds. Under this is a great drum beat that is both danceable and jazzy. Thistledown is similarly stuffed full of ideas, tunes and sounds; including heavily distorted guitar, tremolo organ and strings. This time they sound closer to a particularly strange Portishead (and Portishead are quite strange anyway). There is a gentle, child-like vocal from Sam Owen this time too, recalling the weirder side of English Folk Music (The Wicker Man, etc.) and the late Trish Keenan from Broadcast.

Suggestions of a 60s Spy Theme gone awry course through Electra, which features another ghostly vocal from Owen and also occasionally sails quite close to the Mercury Rev of Deserter’s Songs. Wave Of Translation is quieter, almost pastoral with flutes and xylophone. However, a lot of the sounds are manipulated by Max Simpson’s sampler. It ends up, with the introduction of a beat, sounding like 70s library music for children’s TV. Sam Owen is in from the beginning on Shadow In Twilight. Structurally and lyrically, it is more obviously ‘a song’, but is still liable to sudden changes with the introduction of a beat or sampled sound.

Ladder To The Moon is the longest song here and stumbles in like a Tom Waits song with Matthew Eaton (or Max Simpson’s) bass, some brushed drums, Owen’s sax and a host of other strange sounds (keeping it in Waits territory).  It is an instrumental, but one with a strong main theme. The Midnight Room is part jazzy, 60s movie theme, part drunken sea shanty – as if Corduroy had become pirates. It seems to slide in that strange way that My Bloody Valentine can make music slide. But it also swings. Harry Dawes’ trombone is all over it. Another skippy drum pattern starts Footprints Towards Zero. The sound selection here is particularly excellent, everything seems to work and make instant sense, no matter how preposterous. There is even the suggestion of a Blaxploitation soundtrack. I have to say, it’s quite brilliant. The sound is simpler and more child-like on Mayfly and Sam Owen is back on vocals and accordion. It’s a very pretty song but with a discordant undercurrent.

The shuffly drums and organs of 60s soundtrack music are back for Sailing Shoes. Of course, it is soon disrupted by strange sounds and a slight Hawaiian feel. It then stops abruptly to make way for Where The Sea Stops Moving which unfolds tentatively with an enigmatic vocal line from Owen. The ghostly backing reminds me of An Empty Bliss Beyond This World by The Caretaker. As with most things here, it is quite beautiful. The final track is Doll’s Eyes and it fittingly combines everything from before – skipping rhythms, fragments of tune, a bewildering array of instruments. It sounds like a cross between Portishead and The Incredible String Band and successfully brings down the curtain on this astonishing album.

Across The Meridian features strange music but it’s also not strange in that it is recognisable as music, has quite catchy tunes and is usually played on instruments that you can recognise. There’s something in the way it’s put together that suggests that there’s something else going on. It’s an awkward comparison but it’s like talking to someone with a severe but well-hidden mental illness. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy this album, it brings a flood of memories, ideas, thoughts and images – fun fairs, 70s kids’ TV, jazz, Spy themes, 90s indie music, folk music. But it’s all filtered through a modern, questing sensibility. If I find out that all their other albums are like this I shall become quite giddy.

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This band totally passed me by in the 90s but I somehow discovered them about 5 years ago. Their Sargasso Sea album is really good. Can't wait to hear this one, great review.

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