Of all the early 90s shoegazers, noise-mongers, feedback addicts, and experimental rock enthusiasts, few seem in retrospect more significant and underappreciated than Flying Saucer Attack. They never had the punk grit of Sonic Youth, nor the melodic sensibilities of Slowdive, nor the pulverizing heaviness of Earth, but Flying Saucer Attack had much in common with all of these bands and played very much at the same level of creativity. If you are looking for a distorted, wall-of-sound, reverb laden anthem for experimental rock in the early 90s, look no further than “My Dreaming Hill”, the first track off of Flying Saucer Attack’s self titled debut. When David Pearce’s voice finally rises up out of the squall on “My Dreaming Hill” mumbling some indecipherable nonsense, sounding like the Cocteau Twins if DJ Screw had gotten a hold of them, it’s difficult to not get goose bumps. Flying Saucer Attack’s fingerprints can be found everywhere these days, from the rainy day melancholy of Grouper, to the dark grandeur of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, to the lush, noisy beauty of Fennesz.
Without a new release under the Flying Saucer Attack name since 2000’s Mirror, it seemed like we would never hear from them again. Those who hold up records like Flying Saucer Attack and Further as timeless classics called it a shame. It was with giddy, squealing expectation that I received the new of Flying Saucer Attack’s new record Instrumentals. One never knows what they are going to get when a beloved band returns after a long hiatus with new music. Are we dealing with something akin to Aphex Twins’s recent material, or are we dealing with Episode One: Phantom Menace? I am delighted to report that Instrumentals sounds unmistakably like Flying Saucer Attack, but a version of themselves that has grown and taken in more influences.
Instrumentals is apparently all David Pearce without his sometime collaborator Rachel Brook. As the album title suggests, Pearce’s low, mumbling, but somehow deeply affecting vocals are nowhere to be found here, nor are any of these fifteen tracks titled. One might suspect that these tracks would miss Pearce’s voice drifting out of the murk like fog from a Pacific Northwestern forest, but these tracks feel focused and complete. For an album that touches on ambient music, noise, and drone, there is remarkable variation and character in all of these tracks. So often in the abovementioned genres, songs bleed into one another and get diluted into an overall sound or impression. Although Instrumentals certainly maintains an atmosphere throughout, each of these tracks offers a different take on that atmosphere. Instrumentals feels smart and deliberate. Pearce knows exactly what FSA is supposed to sound like, but has dozens of different ideas through which to express that sound. While appropriately crackly and noisy, the production is just right, letting lush low ends hum and sooth where necessary. Instrumentals balances simplicity and depth, abrasiveness and beauty, with rare skill, reminding anyone who does not already know that Flying Saucer Attack are masters of this type of music.
The influences of folks like Tim Hecker, Ben Frost, and Fennesz is very noticeable on Instrumentals, and the influence seems to go both ways. In the 21st century everyone with a laptop, a guitar, and an eighth of pot is making reverb laden ambient soundscapes in their bedrooms. Most of this stuff will put you right to sleep, but when ambient, noise, and/or experimental music is done by a master, it has as much spark and sorcery as any music you are going to come across. Flying Saucer Attack are masters of this kind and we are very lucky to have them back.