The Membranes - Dark Matter/Dark Energy

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2015-06-20

Someone once said talking about music is like dancing about architecture. I’ve never thought much about this quotation, or the origin of it, except that it occurs to me that you could dance about architecture if the mood really takes you. Why not?

Writing about Dark Matter/Dark Energy, however, is a daunting task. The narrative is both personal and conceptual, the music so raw and powerful, and moreover, so progressive yet classical in its vision. 

The musical synergy on Dark Matter/Dark Energy demands attention. Loud attention. The album was inspired by John Robb’s meeting with particle physicist Joe Incandela, and Joe’s explanation of dark matter (which is excerpted on ‘The Multiverse Suite’). It was further influenced by the death of John’s father during recording. 

What could be perceived as anger and disenchantment on Dark Matter/Dark Energy is really existential crisis and a sense of wonder about our infinitesimal and tentative place within the universe. Making sense of chaos, both chaos theory and real chaos in John Robb’s life. In all our lives. This seems to be the charter of Dark Matter/Dark Energy.  

With a close relationship between the album’s musical elements, and the concepts that lie therein, Dark Matter/Dark Energy is almost gestalt in its philosophical mandate. That is, the whole album has an existence beyond the sum of its parts, just as our lives cannot be reduced to a simple equation. It's impossible to hear a shuffle of tracks on Dark Matter/Dark Energy and make sense of it. Be frightened if you may, but this is an album that demands attention to its whole.

Dark Matter/Dark Energy is not the punk rock album you might expect from a shorthand view of the career of The Membranes. It has its bludgeoning elements, a menacing narrative, a metallic/industrial core, but it’s also funky, experimental, even classically serene, harking back to the album’s concept of wonder interspersed with chaos, both of a cosmic and personal nature. The breadth of musical adventure is at first confounding, but I've listened to this album about 25 times, and I’m still discovering new things, such as the great raga-style guitar work on ‘Magic Eye’. 

Dark Matter/Dark Energy has an alarming dynamic threading through it. If I have any reservation, it’s a personal one. Such radical shifts in mood, tempo and volume can be intimidating, but it’s definitely in keeping with the subject matter.

The epilogue to Dark Matter/Dark Energy is especially poignant. ‘Hum of the Universe’ contains a recording of a brief conversation between John Robb and his elderly father about his fascination with dark matter, even as a child. Stellar explosions of lead guitar interpose over a dialogue about death and the universe, before a beautifully serene lead-out speaks of personal resolution. One example amongst many of the polarity of emotions present throughout Dark Matter/Dark Energy.

Dark Matter/Dark Energy is really a cross-platform piece of theatre. Not literally of course, but in its ambitions. A flawed masterpiece at the outer limits of alternative music. One I’m sure that will endure and be remembered. 

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