Familiar it may seem, but Late of the Pier's debut is pleasingly unpredictable.
On the face of things, Fantasy Black Channel is, like, so 2007. But while Late of the Pier exhibit touchstones of the nu-rave emergence that fleetingly intrigued and quickly irked the British press not so long ago, it doesn't take too many spins of their debut album to see that there's something decidedly more substantial here. Yes, there are the club-ready beats, the brightly-coloured analog synth, the metrosexuality and the occasionally blasé vocals -- all of which helped make Klaxons a conspicuous attraction before the likes of Does It Offend You, Hadouken!, and New Young Pony Club brought about a premature fustiness in the faintly preposterous mini-scene that never really was. But Late of the Pier are working to much more vivid blueprints, and there is a sense of ingenuity, unpredictability, and scale about Fantasy Black Channel that none of the aforementioned bands could boast.
With this in mind, it's either fortuitous or sensible that this album finds its release after the nu-rave bubble has burst and its soggy remnants have been soaked up. There is something a touch self-conscious in Fantasy's flipping from genre-to-genre, and its roots are possibly over-exposed, but that can't belie an adventurous boldness that means it's unlikely to be easily ushered into any real pigeonhole. Take the sublime "Bathroom Gurgle", the Nottingham quartet's deservedly name-making early single. That the album closer can be separated into three clear and diverse subsections -- a bass-heavy disco throb, an orgy of melodramatic glam, and then punchy electro -- suggests shameless box-ticking, but the disarming transitions are pulled off with so much assurance that after a couple of listens you couldn't imagine the track going in any other direction.
Though "Bathroom Gurgle" is exceptional, it's indicative of the fusion of old and new which pervades Fantasy Black Channel. Nods back to new wave might be the most frequent, but it's the proggy, almost glam-rock pomp with which Late of the Pier parade their synth-pop that has the most palpable impact. First track proper "Broken" kicks off with freewheeling guitar riffs before regaining its composure in Samuel Dust's youthfully nonchalant vocals, a combo re-employed toward the album's end in "Mad Dogs and Englishmen". In the meantime, Fantasy has flitted from the tribal drums and down-and-dirty synth on "The Bears Are Coming" to the suitably faux-metal riffing of "Whitesnake", from the merry keyboards of "Random Firl" to stomping new-wave workout of "The Enemy Are the Future".
This diversity means Fantasy retains hidden gems to be uncovered on successive listens. After it's first play, it's most likely you'll remember "Gurgle", but after a second or third it's the pendulous refrain of the aforementioned "Enemy" ("Is it an easy life? / No it's a hard life!") that'll grab you, or "Heartbeat"'s ecstatic chorus melody.
The album also manages to elude the shallowness that many synth-pandering outfits can err towards, largely due to Dust's presence at its spearhead. Though it's the po-faced Numan-esque verse of "Space and the Woods" that boasts the emo-friendly lyrics ("suicide is in my blood, it always was"), it's the menace of "Whitesnake" or the gradual-seeming upsurge of frenzy and frustration in Dust's manner throughout "Enemy"'s six minutes that clinch it.
Don't get me wrong, Fantasy Black Channel never gives the heartstrings the slightest tug, nor does it intend to -- for the time being at least, Late of the Pier's music seems exclusively aimed at the shaking hips and nodding head, rather than the heart. But as a reminder that this precociously ambitious record was made by four young lads from Nottingham, Dust's vocals lend a certain curious tangibility it might otherwise lack.
They might wear their influences pretty much inked onto their sleeves, but Late of the Pier's debut is as exciting as it is excitable. What's most promising is not just that Fantasy Black Channel is a young outfit's first album and is as hook-laden as it is immersing, but that you sense that the young outfit in question aren't even going flat-out just yet.