Nobody was entirely happy with The Virgin Suicides soundtrack. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty good album, but coming off Moon Safari? No. Moon Safari was far and away the very best downtempo, chill-out album of the decade. There is no debate. No comparison. This is the truth. And we all thought that Air were our saviors. They would elevate the genre into unforeseen realms. They would bring beauty and timelessness back into pop music. They were the saviors. And they let us down. And then they really and truly let us down with 10,000 Hz Legend. Ever since Moon Safari, I, and I suspect many others, have been waiting for a downtempo album of equal significance. An album that fused the far-reaching sounds of the best electronic innovators with the songcraft and vocal-stylings of the best pop groups. Well, Bent has come closer than anybody else with The Everlasting Blink. And while it still does not match Moon Safari in sheer pop bliss, it is still a gem of an album.
It’s not a perfect record (no album is), but it’s really, really good, and it follows up a really, really good debut (2000’s Programmed to Love). Most downtempo albums suffer from a reliance on texture and atmosphere over strong songwriting (see my recent review of Flunk’s For Sleepyheads Only, which, incidentally, is also a Guidance Records release). And the heart of any great record is still a strong collection of songs. Lemon Jelly, despite their terrible name, made an excellent little record last year with Lost Horizons. There are only eight songs on Lost Horizons but they are all unique moments, like so many little moog snowflakes. Well, I’m happy to say that Bent have accomplished a similar feat with The Everlasting Blink, and they have (arguably) made a better record.
I’ve always been a sucker for pedal steel guitar and nobody has ever made better use of the instrument on an electronic album than the KLF did on their 1990 ambient classic, Chill Out. But Luke Vibert came pretty damn close with Stop the Panic, his 2000 collaboration LP with the legendary steel guitarist BJ Cole. Cole later went on to further indie rock fame in England after collaborating with former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft on Alone with Everybody. Cole also appears on The Everlasting Blink‘s best tracks, the lush, beautiful “Moonbeams”, and the crossover-hit-in-the-making, “So Long without You”, the latter of which samples a crooning Billie Jo Spears to great effect. In fact, when Spears’s vocals lift off to soaring heights approximately three minutes into “So Long without You”, it is no less than the excruciatingly giddy highpoint of an already exciting record.
Later, there are Mozart adagios (King Wisp) and samples from Captain and Tenille and David Essex. Yes, that David Essex. Essex lends his vocals to “Stay the Same” which brilliantly contains elements from “There’s Something about You” off of Essex’s self-titled ’74 LP. While “Magic Love” borrows from Captain and Tenille’s “Love on a Shoestring”, to hypnotic effect. Now, lest this all starts to sound like some kind of gag record, let me emphasize the fact that there is a lot of heart on this album. Cuts like “King Wisp” and “Beautiful Otherness” show a more sombre, stately side to the band, while other songs, such as “Exercise 3”, forego sampling altogether.
While there no samples to be found on “Exercise 3”, there are some Deep Forest-style Pygmy singers. I don’t really know if they are in fact Pygmies but they sound almost identical to the singers on Deep Forest’s debut LP. It’s an odd little track, as the rest of it sounds like a videogame soundtrack from the early ’90s. It’s also one of the few decidedly “dancey” songs on the album.
The most likeable thing about The Everlasting Blink is just how damn listenable it is. Albums like this are made to be thrown on the stereo whilst doing something else, but the best of them demand your attention like a proper pop record should. If you’re looking for an album such as this than I highly recommend picking up Bent’s latest. I put it firmly alongside other downtempo classics from the Avalanches, Groove Armada, and Air.
By the way, make sure you stick around for the ridiculously bizarre hidden track about 20 minutes after the album closes.