Despite having been formed before I was even born, Journey To X is only the third album released by a band once described as coming from "Penzance via Mars". After more than 30 years on hiatus, these former John Peel favourites are making up for lost time, with this being their second album since reuniting, following on from the success of 2015's Exploding Universe.
While parts of their psychedelic punk fusion sound are a clear throwback to the 70s, this album feels surprisingly modern, with some of the vocals sounding a little Misty's Big Adventure (most noteably on Laura Riding). There's a lot that's gone into this melting pot, but the final record is unique and at times simply sublime. In fact, there is so much going on here (psych/punk/jazz/glam pop/African), that this is something that everyone can enjoy.
Lyrically the songs represent a wide variety of themes, covering trust, communication, inappropriate obsessions… and then there is beauty of a description of The Human Scapegoat from the sleeve notes:
"The prehistoric tradition of choosing a king who would rule the tribe for a year and then be ritually sacrificed to ensure a successful harvest, and the movement of the human race towards increased mechanisation and eventual (nuclear?) self-destruction, followed by a revival among the survivors of a simpler, more natural form of living."
The Human Scapegoat is nothing short of epic, enticing you in with a guitar riff that could have come from the heady days of Brit-pop. It is 12 minutes of constant change encompassing metal, an interlude of percussion and nature sounds, and progressive rock redolent of Pink Floyd. It's followed up by Laura Riding which is a great slice of modern glam pop about the renowned poet and Robert Graves' 'muse'.
The lyrics on At Noon are based on a poem by Elizabeth Jennings, and the song itself is one of the more simplistic on the album, a strong 60s style pop sound with deep lyrics about having no place in the world. Some Things is a great punk rock song with a fabulous guitar riff throughout. Kill It, which closes out the album, matches the ambition of The Human Scapegoat. It's almost eleven minutes of sublime guitar, and sudden changes that send it off into unexpected directions.
The standout here is probably The World Inside, though there is a lot of competition. It's a strange and unexpected dip into cabaret style, though with a significant punky twist. Jessie Pie's soulful jazzy vocal style is a bit of a departure, but it works perfectly, especially when the track becomes a duet. It may come completely out of leftfield, but it's a wonderful song that enthrals and delights.
Consistently surprising and wonderfully fresh, the Brainiac 5 don't waste a single note, which is remarkable considering the length of some of these songs. They skirt the line between retro and modern with an impressive deft touch, creating a wonderful record which will leave you wanting more. Let's hope this purple patch late in their careers continues for a long time to come.
|The Sadies: Northern Passages||Rachel Hamer Band: Hard Ground|
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