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Album Review: Late of the Pier – Fantasy Black Channel

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Nottingham, England: home to legendary corrupt sheriffs and one of the biggest metal festivals in the world. Not exactly the kind of place an indie quartet like Late of the Pier, whose total weight may not actually exceed 400 pounds, might be expected to come out of. But, ’80’s fetish and Adderall prescription intact, this indie/synth/dance unit has made Nottingham a home base for its personal conquest of the British music scene since 2001. Late of the who?? Name-dropping this band evokes a similar response from even the most indie-savvy US music fans-but not for long. With the hot-off-the-presses Fantasy Black Channel, Late of the Pier aims to change all that.

Realizing that YouTube videos spread faster than radio play, Late of the Pier has launched an all-out internet campaign against obscurity. Crafting videos for no less than four songs off Fantasy Black Channel (“Focker”, “Space and the Woods”, “Bears Are Coming”, and “Bathroom Gurgle”–that’s over a third of the album’s runtime!), Late of the Pier have made bizarre videos, including such hijinks as a murderous robot made of all the band’s keyboards, the stock in trade of their career–which will hopefully do more to promote the band overseas than the lackluster radio play Fantasy Black Channel might recieve in the States.

The Nottingham foursome are right. But they’ve run up against a problem-their videos are far more original and entertaining than their music. Take for example “Heartbeat”. The video, a freakshow walking tour of apparently every backdrop in the sci-fi department of BBC1, has it all over the unspectacular music track. Starting out with a cheesy A-Ha keyboard intro, and moving through some pumping synth bass jams replete with un-tiss-un-tiss house beats, “Heartbeat” is typical fare for Late of the Pier-mostly derivative in content, but far more interesting in presentation, what with buried baby dolls, exploding heads, and a human ladder of half-naked band members.

In a sort of retreat from originality, Fantasy Black Channel is a hodgepodge of drastically different ideas and styles-an approach which the band seems to hope will distract the listener from their nearly-stolen riffs. And while Late of the Pier hardly does Adam Ant or Roxy Music or Goldfrapp half as well as the originals, it’s to the band’s credit that they can manage to make a three-minute song sound like all three jamming with each other. The album’s best moments are when the band does its damnedest to sound like a four-man mashup machine–and nowhere do they succeed better than on the closing track, “Bathroom Gurgle”. With a Pleasure Principle-era Gary Numan verse, a Duran Duran pre-chorus, a half-time Whitesnake power ballad section, and a B52’s breakdown (and what appears to be a sample of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” [as in CHICK-CHICK-AAHHH] at 3:19), this track highlights the band’s singular talent for sounding like the entire top 40 of any given week of 1985 thrown into a 25-horsepower blender on “Coked Out” for five minutes.

However, there’s one comparison that’ll dog these lads to their graves, and that’s to London-based band the Klaxons. Largely credited with starting the “New Rave” music movement that’s eating up lots of wordspace in the British music press, the Klaxons bring a similar brand of ’80’s-indebted, hi-hat-cracking indie/dance/synth/whatever to market. The main problem is that the Klaxons do it a hundred times better and meaner and nastier, actually writing quality songs like “Atlantis to Interzone” and “Magick” and backing them up with barn burning live performances.

The major metaphor at work is one of frozen orange juice and gasoline. While Late of the Pier eat breakfast and drive off to work, the Klaxons make napalm in the basement. And because of the way they sound and dress and the crowd they pull in, the boys of Late of the Pier will forever be compared to this far better band-no matter how cleverly and subtly they mash up their influences.

This is hardly to say that Fantasy Black Channel is worthless. The singles, and their videos, are actually very worthwhile. The major problem with the album is how weak non-video tracks like “Broken” and “Random Firl” are. And if the members of Late of the Pier really are the brainy, malnourished, art school types they seem to be, they’ll learn their lesson, and just keep making music videos and stop making albums. In a marketplace where the CD-length album is fast becoming obsolete at the hands of iTunes and pay-as-you-play music services like Napster and Rhapsody, it’s not good business sense for bands like Late of the Pier to keep cutting weak tracks like late-album snoozer “VW”. Rather, this band should realize that it looks almost twice as good as it sounds, and quit the LP game in favor of cutting solid 3-4 minute singles with clever videos every six months. Maybe they’ll finally be the first to do something.

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