From the first few notes of “Hot Tent Blues,” the opening track to Late Of The Pier’s debut album Fantasy Black Channel, you’re in for a circus of bizarre sound effects, and hairpin turns through a galaxy of relentless and awesomely ridiculous songs.
It’s a swirling collage of musical ideas and effects—the unifying element being that every song sounds as eclectic as the next. As the instrumental “Hot Tent Blues” melts seamlessly into “Broken,” lead singer Sam Eastgate (who also plays guitar and synths) declares, “Didn’t sleep last night, couldn’t come down.” It’s danceable, but with a sense of yearning as Eastgate’s vocal range gradually moves to a higher register on the line “It’s all evolution’s fault now!”
Although they’ve all known each other since primary school in a small English village called Castle Donington, the quartet (which, alongside Eastgate includes Ross Dawson, drums; Sam Potter, sampler; and Andrew Faley, bass and synths) didn’t emerge as Late Of The Pier until 2004. They started making bedroom recordings, and released a free 14-track demo called Zarcorp, before being signed to a label. After attracting the attention of infamous British record producer, Erol Alkan, Fantasy Black Channel—produced by both Alkan and Eastgate–was released in the UK in 2008.
Considering all of the members are in their early 20s, many of the influences that can be heard on the album are from time periods before they were even born. In the otherworldly, foot-stomping “Space and the Woods,” an almost Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie twang sings out, “Put on my radiation suit and slip away.” And like Gang of Four on an acid freakout, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” has an angular, dance punk feel—with vocalizing “doo-doo’s” mimicking the synth riff.
“The Bears Are Coming” is like tribal martian music, with an oddly infectious riff that sounds like letting air rhythmically squeak out of a small mouth opening in a balloon. Like many of the other songs on the album, this almost sounds like it could be multiple songs in one. There is a bluesy breakdown of “I saw you wading in the water,” which explodes—there is literally the sound of glass breaking—into a wonderful mishmash of all the freakiness colliding as the imaginary bears have escaped.
But the stand-out track on here comes midway through, with the madly danceable “Heartbeat.” It has one of those tempo build-ups that’s worth waiting for, the type that brings to mind the feeling of pure elation and invincibility before the night becomes a complete blur. Eastgate assumes the role of erasing any sense of hesitation as he declares, “It’s just a line!”
With their jarring tempo changes, hedonistic lyrics, and eclectic musical ideas, Late Of The Pier is not for everybody. It’s been described as “anti-pop pop,” but for those along for the ride—enjoy the 42-minute dance adventure that’s equally grimy and glamorous.