As is customary procedure every two months or so, I have been on a bit of a David Bowie binge these past couple days. At some point I will be sure to wax lyrical specifically on the great man himself, but this particular spell of Bowie indulgence has led me to metaphorically dusting off my old Late of the Pier MP3s because, in my mind, musically Late of the Pier were innovating in the spirit of Bowie, and their inexplicable absence for the past few years has been very upsetting.
Their Erol Alkan-produced debut album, Fantasy Black Channel, was released back in 2008, and boasted some extraordinary soundscapes. Bright, brazen and brimming over with a really wild, weird sense of otherworldliness, these were songs which wouldn’t have sounded amiss soundtracking Bowie’s Labyrinth – or, as the band described themselves, it was “music to have asthma to”. There aren’t really any two Late of the Pier songs which sound the same, and yet their sound never seemed to lack a sense of cohesion – rather, it was quite exciting that everything could be so all over the place.
‘The Bears Are Coming’ has its tribal, almost afrobeat rhythms, dancing beneath lush ripples of chaotic synths; ‘VW’ is an intense instrumental cacophony of brilliance, with thick, dramatic, dissonant swathes of sound; ‘Focker’ and ‘White Snake’ are both frantic and bizarre numbers with a much bigger nod to rock than the rest of their oeuvre; while ‘Heartbeat’ is a beautifully fluid piece of pop with a particularly sweet guitar line; and I always had a soft spot for the squelchy, sparkling, short but sweet ‘Random Firl’ with its lovely, brief, kind of psychedelic lyrics: “Lately, I’ve been thinking this whole world seems too hard / And I’d be better off to undo everything / But maybe it was only the Sun behind the clouds making everything seem nasty / Behind the clouds / It’s lovely behind the clouds”.
This is without covering a lot of their work, but my favourite three Late of the Pier songs would have to be ‘Space and the Woods’, ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ and their last (hopefully not last ever) single, ‘Blueberry’. I’m not necessarily proud about it, but the band’s first single – the Gary Numan-esque ‘Space and the Woods’ – was my ringtone for a time, with its twinkling intro diffusing into dark, punchy, dance-y melodies and surprisingly quite profound lyrics, trying – according to an interview I just read – “to weigh up what is more important; a person or an inanimate object, or an absence of anything”. ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ is a a fantastic piece of dance pop, wearing its odd, glam ’80s influences on its sleeve, all jumping beats and spacey rock with some exquisitely realised moments: “So put your hands on your waistline / and move your body to the bass line / And get your hands on some cheap wine / And keep moving ’til you feel fine” is arguably some of the funnest, most delightful lyricism of the past ten years. ‘Blueberry’ was something a bit different, though: all gorgeous soaring anthem full of spacey strangeness, with delicate, pop verses and a sublime, again kind of psychedelic sound, with a chorus of children singing at the end, and it seemed promising of incredible things to come.
I do not know what Late of the Pier are currently doing. I do not know when – or if – they will release more music. I just felt the need to take a moment and heap some gushing praise on a band whose oeuvre should not be left to gather dust in the recesses of 2008 when the NME were trying to make “new rave” a thing. They were making some amazingly weird and innovative stuff, and the British music scene was all the more exciting for their presence. Wherever you are, please come back soon.