I received a copy of Lots of Dots through the post the other day. It’s the new (long) player from The Pale Blue Dots. Actually it’s the first long player from The Pale Blue Dots. It was good to see that the thinking, the talking and writing has finally paid off. I was beginning to doubt whether any of this would ever surface and run its rings around the world.
If you don’t know already – because these things get around town – by word of mouth, internet ravings and rumours and releases – The Pale Blue Dots are Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford and Richard Chester. Richard is one of my best friends – is my best friend. Good friends. We’ve spent some real good times together and I’ve always appreciated his musical ear(s). Bunf was known to me through the Furries – and that pretty much makes him a musical genius – there hasn’t been a band like the Super Furry Animals before or after. They captured that freeing of sound the 90s let in – briefly combining rock and roll with psych and soul all topped with chemical beats and treats.
It was Welsh independence writ large for the masses with guitars and furry suits. And here it is again - without the suits but just as experimental.
As you know – I have had access to part of The Pale Blue Dots for some time and have been raving and raging about them for two years now. Ever since Richard sent me Additional (which is yet to see the light of day) a tune all awash with Jeff Lyne, flourishes and strings I have felt this band had a finger somewhere on the pulse of rock n roll (that's the widest definition of rock n roll - you could just call it music) So where to begin? I should do some sort of plodding Mojo review – two paragraphs and a press release. Give four stars and bang it up. But I think it deserves a little more praise than that – but then I am a bias fucker.
This is not an extension of the Super Furry Animals. It isn’t even a solo project – it’s a bit more complicated and I think this first long player reveals it. Its textures and hooks and riffs and rolls coupled with openness and playfulness. It’s the pleasure of listening. It’s clear that there is an interaction between the two worlds – Bunf’s is different to Richard’s but that shared connection – that understanding is evident in the straight pop boogie of Devastation through to the wonderfully evocative Nebraska.
You can’t quite put your finger on it. It isn’t conceptual – yet there’s a thread running through it. We have references to West Coast psychedelia (Slow Reaction), through soundscapes and Asian melancholia mixed with the funky drummer (Tokyo Hotel Silence or Silent Tokyo Hotel – which had my daughter smiling - she just loved the idea that the two pieces were essential the same with muddled words) coupled with ramalama Bolan/ Bowie infused boogaloo (Devastation) eighties production and early synth experimentation (Look into my Eyes) to the wild plains and haunting twangs of the prairie as dusk falls (Nebraska).
And it all works together. From start to finish it evolves and lingers – causually working its way from the short term memory to the long term.
Its an experiment in getting inside your head.
Guitars are distorted and loud, it's full of clangs and chimes - then things are suddenly strummed and simple – they are sounds in themselves. And you can see that both of these fellas love sound. You can see that they 'get' sound. They get down to 'sound'. (The Sound of the Crowd)
I guess we get a glimpse of what’s inside their heads. It’s quite dark at times. You might keep it upbeat but No Motivation references that sinking slide into busily doing nothing but sleeping. Put that with Slow Reaction – which from its opening piano riff lodges itself firmly in your brain and you’ve got a band struggling to articulate and do.
Except it isn’t. Because here’s an album full of potential pop hits. Produced by Cian at the Strangetown Studios - there's a lovely space and groove to it all. I mean that I really do. As I said previously these are older fellas writing music for the masses. There’s a touch of Nilsson, of Alex ‘Skip’ Spence, Jeff Lyne (and his dark eyes) Spector and early electro albums and of course if you really want to you'll hear a nod to the Furries. Bound to - really. Oh and Daf is playing drums.
It's a wide-ranging album and whilst the focus will be on Bunf - this is double labour of love - for both members. It surprises and asks for a response. When I first heard Reach for the Keys – I didn’t get it. It seemed so overblown and vibrating with empty halls and the echoes of children’s voices – with a rolling nursery rhythm beat. But as with all these tunes they have legs – they have feet – they grow. And it's haunting opening - sort of reminiscent of the Tales of the Unexpected - Roald Dhal making earworm pop - soon lodges itself in your brain. Bunf's simply delivery coupled with found sounds and talk - after a few listens I was happily singing along.
Aquarium could be the missing link between the last SFA album and these Pale Blue Dots. Creeping closer now it gives you the creeps. Bunf's vibrato is quite extraordinary. There's a fragility amidst the lush orchestration - as Bunf dazzles his partner with his 'Admit One Extra' pass and get's her in for 'free now baby'. Meanwhile Richard's layering the strings like the bastard son of Barry. Super continents collide my friend.
And what a great collision this is. It's good to have Richard and Bunf together.
You know I was worried about Lots of Dots dark unnerving cover – a little girl slaughtered as a lamb sits by her side. I mean what should I be reading into that? Or it could just be a broken ornament – found in any home across the land and tipped over through excitement and stupidity. You know it’s just a cover - but there's an undercurrent to it - a subtext. Something which rings out on this (way to short) long player - take Look in to my Eyes - it's all in a look. Concentrate. Something's lurking in this song - something's lurking in this album and I like it.
You know we might miss the Super Furry Animals and I’m not holding my breath for a reunion – although it would be great.
But let’s give this credit.
Let’s give them all credit.
They can all write fucking quality tunes - Gruf, Cian, Daf, Guto and Bunf – with each other - apart - or here with Richard Chester.
I hope this release is the start of something new. I know there are more songs - lots more dots - absolute crackers - but as first releases go - every tune is great in its own right. And if me and my kids are singing these songs in the car - then I know you will be too.
They're having a blast. So let's join in.
Lots of Dots is released on StrangetownRecords on November 3rd.
The Pale Blue Dots are in session on Monday on Marc Riley's show from 7.00pm
You can listen to The Pale Blue Dots here.