Bikini Atoll: Moratoria

[29 November 2004]

By Jason MacNeil

Bikini Atoll are named after a small Pacific isle that was the testing ground for various U.S. nuclear and atomic, er, tests. But this Bikini Atoll aren’t interested in blowing up the world, maybe more in line with blowing your speakers apart in certain moments. The London group, according to its press release, seem to be compared endlessly to Spiritualized. Don’t let that slant your reaction one way or the other however, as the title track takes a while to immerse yourself in. Slightly ambient in the opening, guitarist and lead singer Joe Gideon (as in that hotel bible) sets sail on waters that Primal Scream’s early work or Vanishing Point did previously. It’s still rather catchy but tries to change gears a bit too quickly, resulting in the tune briefly stalling and losing any momentum it had. Fans of Singapore Sling minus the fuzz and feedback would enjoy this as it’s basically repeating itself, just growing in intensity. This instrumental is a fine teaser of what’s to come. Unfortunately, the mainstream lyrics and music tunes such as “Then Amplify” don’t pack nearly the same punch as the instrumental work. Gideon tries to pass himself off as a highbrow Jon Spencer on the tune as a murky series of guitar riffs never really amplify. “A human stampede cut right down to size”, Gideon sings but there is little that blows the listener over.

When Bikini Atoll opt for the darker moments and keep them simple, they seem to soar effortlessly. “Cinnamon” is a great example of this as they start off with a morose lyric about hanging from tenterhooks. The tune’s biggest asset is how the group keeps the tension without giving into your desires for it to break open in the first half of the song. The percussion of drummer Che only gives this great bombast and it finally gives in, sort of like a rough Jesus and Mary Chain or Mercury Rev. It all comes together on this tune and it is a keeper for sure! “Black River Falls” is the perfect nightcap to the previous song as everything shifts down into a mid-tempo, morbid mode mindful of Knife in the Water if they were influenced by Lou Reed or Nick Cave and not Gram Parsons. “I’m naming names”, Gideon sings in a manner that also resembles The National. The rich and extremely lush, textured conclusion is terrific as well, uplifting and cinematic but still melancholy.

“Black Dog” tries to recapture the verve felt on “Cinnamon” but fails miserably with an opening that sounds as if they were recording over the light saber fight scene between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. A trace of early Pink Floyd is then attempted before they try some quickly concocted rock arrangement that is best left in the studio or as a hidden track coda. You get the impression they are playing this the first time around as an off-kilter backbeat is usurped only by a crunchy, radio-friendly guitar riff. Mercifully, it ends and they nail “Cheap Trick”, a lovely fist-pumping tune that is equal parts New Order, Interpol, and the Strokes. Reaching their highpoint, Bikini Atoll put it in cruise and ride it out brilliantly. Again the ebb and flow of the record works perfectly as “Perfect Method Flawed” has all the nuances of a fine love song by the Cure. “Desolation Highway” sits between “Cheap Trick” and “Perfect Flawed Method” in its sound and style. It’s still quite dark but there is a crevice of hope about it as a string-like effect tenderly hovers over the tune. It’s without question the album’s anthem moment and merits a theatrical ending. The band shows why this music, at times terribly depressing and full of despair, makes you hopeful that it never dies.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bikiniatoll-morotoria/