Right there in the first paragraph of producer Ross Robinson’s Wikipedia page is a terrifying nickname, one which follows a rather dire list of career highlights: “The Godfather of Nu Metal.” But for Klaxons, a band who never seemed entirely comfortable with being tagged as “New Rave” themselves, the idea of looking beyond labels must have held considerable appeal. Record labels have long been vilified for stifling artistic freedom in pursuit of the almighty dollar, and in the past decade the corporate structure has taken further hits for the perception that its been dragging its collective heels into the digital age. For fans of Klaxons, Polydor’s rumored rejection of the band’s “experimental” submission on their sophomore album was tantamount to treason. Without having heard the material that apparently wasn’t up to snuff, I daresay the label might have been right on the money.
Surfing the Void isn’t exactly a carbon copy of the first Klaxons album, Myths of the Near Future, but for those who loved the debut, with its airy vocals, soaring melodies and insistent rhythms, the band’s sophomore effort should be most welcome. Surfing the Void boasts 10 tracks of terrific tunes cut from what must now be considered the official Klaxons formula: At its essence, it’s dance music played on traditional rock ‘n’ roll instruments. Furthermore, it proves that whole New Rave thing was sort of a sham all along; Klaxons were always an indie concern with the basic notion that indie kids just need to shake their asses. It’s a concept shared by the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, but with a far more circuitous means of arriving on the dancefloor.
Given the band first began discussing its recording six months after the release of their debut, it’s not surprising that Surfing the Void roams much of the same territory as its predecessor. That Klaxons went through the alleged sonic explorations, the fits and starts and aborted sessions with Tony Visconti and James Ford, the thematic departures promised in interviews if not in music and still came back around to their comfort zone would be a tragedy if it didn’t sound as though they were having such a good time.
The stories of Surfing the Void and that of Brooklyn band MGMT’s sophomore album, Congratulations share enough similarities that it’s not unreasonable to discuss the pair together. Both bands made their mark on major labels in 2007, laboring over a second album eventually released in 2010. Both bands ran into label interference, though MGMT added the twist of being talked out of simply giving their album away for free. While MGMT wound up veering into deep psych-pop waters, Klaxons stayed the course. Neither made the wrong decision, even if the latter was rumored to have been assisted by representatives of their record label.
If there was ever any question that the new material would sound like the work of a completely different artist, lead single “Echoes” sets the record straight. It sounds so familiar it might have you checking your well-worn copy of Myths of the Near Future to see if you didn’t already hear it three years ago. But if it’s familiar, by golly if it isn’t also an absolute arms-aloft stormer with the sort of sing-along chorus Klaxons seem incapable of not producing.
“Valley of the Calm Trees” is perhaps as close as Klaxons will ever get to the measured reliability of a Giorgio Moroder tune, but it’s a satisfyingly grimy approach, with far more emotional resonance (and filthy guitar noises) than its forefather. Other synth-laden songs follow a similar tact, sounding as though once futuristic technology has been rescued rusty from the refuse of a lost age. “Venusia” lends this scenario further apocalyptic credibility with Jamie Reynolds’ raunchy bass and some fanatically tribal drums. The sound of actual klaxons heralds the beginning of the chaotic “Extra Astronomical,” while “Future Memories” takes “So I Can See” by Madchester also-rans the High to a decidedly less understated place. As a closer, it’s hard to imagine a song more perfectly suited than “Cypherspeed,” in which seemingly every instrument ever created was played all at once, creating an exhilarating cacophony directed by breathless vocals.
Robinson might have seemed a curious choice for producer, though the partnership works well. Most of Surfing the Void combines the band’s dance-punk aesthetic, but delivered upon thick slabs of rawk production. Outcasts from a pair of long-departed genres working in concert never made so much sense, especially in the mix. Klaxons’ studio efforts have always sounded less polished and processed and more organic and live than some of their contemporaries, and that’s one of their greatest strengths. As on Myths of the Near Future, Klaxons have created an album in Surfing the Void that should work as well in a live setting as it does coming through speakers or headphones.