Keyboardist and guitarist Martin Kennedy just about has it all. He’s been in two well-loved Australian bands, Pray TV and All India Radio. He can grab Steve Kilbey from the Church at a moment’s notice for a collaboration. All India Radio’s new album Space features both Kilbey and a pedal steel guitar performance from former Triffids member Graham Lee. Former Go-Betweens bassist Rob Vickers is leading the album’s PR push and, most surreal of all, the album’s cover features an original work by David A. Hardy — specifically, the painting that Pink Floyd turned down to adorn their 1973 landmark album. But just because you have great connections doesn’t make the music business any less of a bumpy ride. Despite being in the marketplace for 20-some years while cranking out high quality material at a prolific rate, Kennedy and company still have to turn to crowd-funding sites like PledgeMusic to make albums happen. But let’s take a break from railing against the injustice of it all and just appreciate the fact that All India Radio’s patrons are well rewarded. After releasing too many albums and EPs and rarities collections to count, Space could be their career highlight.
Hardy’s painting captures the mood perfectly. Light is present, but it’s both eclipsed and far off. The two celestial bodies you do see in their entirety are back-lit. From your perspective, you would probably have nothing beneath you — and that wouldn’t matter a lick in zero gravity. In fact, it’s rather surprising that All India Radio haven’t named an album Space until now since their blend of downtempo songs and ambient sounds have always sounded perfect for interstellar travel. If Pink Floyd were to hone their jamming skills from the early days, they might sound like what Kennedy, bassist Mark Wendt, and drummer Chris Brush are up to now.
Three songs feature vocals, the first one being Space‘s flagship single “Monsters”. Longtime collaborative singer Leona Gray puts her range to the test when she sings “I come up, and you go down / You come up, and I go down.” The verses get their eerie character from a synthesizer that sounds like it was recorded at the other end of a very long corridor. Gray’s other appearance on “Holding” plays up the drama a bit more with its occasional telephone effect and unabashedly soaring chorus. Steve Kilbey recycled some spoken-word lyrics from his first collaboration with Martin Kennedy on “Eurydice in Scarlet”, but that hardly matters. The beat retains a sense of mystery while being slightly swifter and a lot more involved (I’ll overlook those handclaps). “Eurydice in Scarlet” is the soundtrack of molecular-level excitement. It almost doesn’t need Kilbey’s contribution, but it’s still nice to hear it.
Whenever All India Radio wants to pull a surprise on their listeners, it never winds up being a grandiose one. Space is no exception. “Theo’s Sunlight Dream” would be just another downtempo groove if it weren’t for the backward effects in the track’s middle that sounded like someone who couldn’t breath attempting to call out for help as they got sucked into a black hole. The album’s closer “Sonda JV” is not afraid to put a positive coat of ’80s-era synths over a racquetball beat. And I can’t let this review go without addressing “Heirs of Ineptune”, a 13-minute monolith that starts off as industrial-lite but then takes to the sky as if Richard Wright were still alive. Beats vanish as the song returns to its opening theme, miraculously never overstaying its welcome.
When a band has as many albums as All India Radio, it’s difficult to tell a newcomer where to start listening or which albums stand above the pack. Space may or may not be an excellent place for the uninitiated to start, but it’s definitely not an album to miss.