Album reviews: The Psychedelic Furs and Daniel Blumberg

The Psychedelic Furs – Made of Rain

★★★☆☆

The Psychedelic Furs were one of the Eighties’ most significant post-punk bands. Such was their impact – they influenced a raft of Noughties acts from Interpol to The Horrors – that John Hughes named his 1986 cult film Pretty in Pink after their song. But after years of touring their old hits, the London six-piece had begun to “feel like a jukebox”. With Made of Rain – their studio comeback after 29 years – they hoped not only to rekindle their creativity, but to release themselves from the nostalgia-band train.

Growing older hasn’t mellowed them. Taking its name from a death-themed poem, Made of Rain is a welcome return to the Furs’ classic blend of aggression, tender melody and brooding ambience. But it’s darker than they’ve been before. Chaotic opener “The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll” melds pounding drums, effects-laden guitars and synths with their trademark saxophone. It’s followed by the equally intense, existential single “Don’t Believe”, but the atmospheric “No-One” is bleaker still. Ominous feedback segues into a catchy but eerie minor-key riff and Richard Butler’s sombre vocals.

Butler is at his sneering best on “Come All Ye Faithful”, as he snipes, “When I said I loved you, well I lied/ I never really loved you, I was laughing at you all the time,” over a slinky bass groove, ghostly keys and a screeching sax that adds to the mockery.

Just when you think the moody “Ash Wednesday” has lost its way, it shakes up its slow pace with intriguing instrumental interludes. They lay bare their emotional side, too. While the strident “Wrong Train” showcases one of the drollest lines found on this album in “A wife that hates me… so does her boyfriend”, it lacks the emotional heft of its successor “This’ll Never Be the End of Love”.

It’s a shame that the album didn’t end on the sweeping melancholy of “Turn Your Back On Me” rather than the less memorable “Stars”. “We keep coming back,” Butler sings on the former. It’s good that they have.

Daniel Blumberg – On&On

★★★★☆

Since Daniel Blumberg formed his first band aged 15 – the XL Records-signed Cajun Dance Party – he has released music as Yuck, Hebronix, Oupa, GUO, and The Howling Hex. So restlessly creative is the now-30-year-old Blumberg, most of these projects lasted for just one album.

This latest venture may be released under his own name, but On&On is as collaborative an album as they come. Following in the same ambitious vein as his debut solo album Minus, it marries traditional song structures with free improvisation performed by the collection of like-minded musicians he met at London’s Cafe Oto.

It’s Blumberg’s longest commitment to a way of working, which is just as well because it is brilliant. On&On takes the free-form approach further in a song cycle that repeats its title track, creating an infinitesimal, dreamlike cycle. It also includes guitar in place of his usual piano, a nod to the late David Berman of Silver Jews, with whom Blumberg worked and to whom this album is dedicated. It is redolent, too, of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s more experimental work. On&On blends the lo-fi indie-rock of his long-time favourite bands such as Pavement with the experimental jazz inflections of Tortoise.

Hospitalisation for mental illness and a difficult break-up with a long-term girlfriend (actor Stacy Martin, with whom he has reunited) coloured Minus, and tenderly delivered lyrics reveal some of that anguish. Standout track “Bound” most bears his indie-band roots, ramping up its emotional power with a sudden midway shift, tremolo violins building the tension.

This is an uncomfortably suffocating listen at times, as Blumberg probes his struggles. The haunting “Silence Breaker” layers the eerie, auto-tuned vocals of singer Elvin Brandhi with desperate cries and plucked strings. Unhinged vocals and erratic, discordant violins and drums, played by Jim White, are at the heart of “Sidestep Summer”. But there’s comfort in the familiar return of the title track’s main melody throughout the album.

This is an extraordinary work, creating beauty from its sadness.

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