Klaxons - Surfing the Void

by Rich Morris Rating:5 Release Date:2010-08-23

So, once you strip away the glitter, the strobing neon and the glow-in-the-dark body paint, what do you have left? That's the question people will be asking themselves coming to Surfing the Void, Klaxons' long, looong delayed second album. It's a question the band probably asked of themselves during this record's reportedly torturous recording process. Their first attempt was rejected by their record label, apparently for being 'too experimental'. Really? How 'out there' must those recordings have been? - 'out there' being the place Klaxons decisively made their home on first record Myths of the Near Future.

That record was, for the most part, a day-glo, psychedelic, not particularly well recorded mess. Its sonic ambition raced toward several horizons at once, usually exhausting itself and hitting the limits of the band's talent before it reached anything truly transcendent or, well, coherent. It was, however, loads of fun, genuinely capturing something close to a cultural moment as a youth trend fatally saddled with the tag new rave grabbed popular consciousness by the non-gender specific nether bits and led it panting towards the dance floor. It also contained 'Golden Skans', an unashamedly melodic pop gem which snuck into the top ten despite sounding like it had fried its tits off on shrooms.

Those looking for such a moment on Surfing the Void will be disappointed. Instead, Klaxons' sound is now pitched somewhere between the heavy psych sound which evolved out of 60s garage rock and full-on prog. It's an unfocussed, grumpy record. In fact, its ire is palpable on the cranky title track, which is little more than an adolescent temper tantrum. You wonder what this anger is directed at. Possibly Klaxons' record company. Possibly themselves. Either way, it's not much fun to listen to.

Elsewhere, Klaxons would still have us believe they're surfing the outer limits of human consciousness, as on songs such as 'Valley of the Calm Trees' (very prog title that, and it lives up to its name) and opening track 'Echoes'. But, striped of the sci-fi, lovably inept trappings of their early music, these cosmic voyages are distinctly pedestrian. Whereas, on songs like 'Atlantis to Interzone' and 'Two Receivers' they sounded like the aural embodiment of the kind of otherworldly, space cadet person you'd encounter while completely off your head at a amazing, sweaty club night - someone with great drugs, utterly skewed views on life and the universe, someone who was definitely going to be your best mate for ever (who in fact you would never meet again and ignore if you did) - now songs like 'Extra Astronomical' and 'Venusia' lack the stardust to back up their 'I can feel the grass grow' pronouncements.

The main problem with Surfing the Void is that Klaxons have stopped being fun, and they don't sound like they're having fun anymore either. It's not until track seven, 'Twin Flames', that they get close to touching 'Golden Skans'. Again, the lyrics are the usual hippy twaddle about transcendence and whatever, but here they finally give the music space to breathe and it pays dividends, reminding you that somewhere inside Klaxons there lurks a really great white soul band. Then there's 'Future Memories', which almost repeats the trick. Why these tracks are shuffled to the back of the album is beyond comprehension.

It would be tempting to blame producer Ross Robinson (best known for his work with Korn and Slipknot) for the album's over-reliance on grouchy guitar sounds, but the truth is Myths of the Near Future was just as unruly, spilling out all over the place. But back then, Klaxons sounded like young, dumb boys on an epic, mind-exploding trip. They sounded exciting and excited by the possibilities ahead of them. Now, four years on, they sound a little jaded and pissed off, repeating the same tropes not because they really believe them anymore but because they just can't figure out where to go next. The party's over, boys. New rave now looks like a slightly unbelievable myth of the near past. Try as they might (and they obviously have) Klaxons haven't escaped it. What does the future hold for them? Judging by this odd, compromised album, it doesn't look too good. Let's hope for album number three, Klaxons get to finally make the album they really want to make.

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