Welsh psychedelic rockers Ectogram return with a limited edition album that sees them try some new approaches in the studio. Eschewing their propensity for unrestricted jamming and long, long pieces of music, they have instead tried to create shorter, poppier works with as little electric guitar as possible. They succeeded in the song length/format but were less successful on the guitar front. The end result is one of the best albums they have put their name to.
"Out of Storks" kicks off Exo-Celestial in style, a driving E-Bow melody immediately pulls me in as Ann Matthews reels off the sort of surreal lyrics that Colin Newman would have given his eye teeth for during Wire’s glory days. Beginning on such a high, I wondered where Ectogram could go from here and they do nothing to disappoint. "Geometric Overload" not only picks up the baton where "Out of Storks" left off but completely pushes the music into heavenly areas. Delicate acoustic guitar over thundering drums create a fantastic piece of alternative pop that should be on national radio right now (and I bet it would sound terrific on stage).
The energy is sustained through songs like "Diermaier’s Dream" (a nod to Faust’s drummer Zappi, who Ectogram have close contacts with) with its lyrics about "hipsters, shifters and kamikaze swimmers," stunning melodies and a seismic anti-guitar solo near the end. The clarinet on "Tritonathon" takes the group to another place altogether, guitar harmonics and glockenspiel adding a disorientating psychedelic edge to the music. Elsewhere, paranoia sets in on "Isodermia" with Alan Holmes’s noisy stint on a BC8 synthesiser with Ectogram again showing yet another side to their playing.
Released to coincide with the end of the world (i.e. the 21st December 2012), my copy arrived on the morning of the apocalypse. Overall, it was providing a (mainly) cheery background for all things Armageddon-ish but thankfully Earth has survived long enough for me to enjoy this album a few times as it gets better with every listen. Granted, there are times where I wish they would extend the songs out to the sort of lengths that are found on other Ectogram releases but overall this creative shake-up has paid off big time.