Why Late of the Pier’s ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ is a bloody amazing album

In memory of drummer Ross Dawsom’s passing approximately a year ago, and with the rise of LA Priest, let’s remind ourselves why LOTP were so great.

Think Late of the Pier and your mind should conjure excitable, jumpy, ‘what-the-fuck-is-going-on’ progressive dance-punk. Their sound is a very rich and complex recipe – those weird time signatures, those unpredictable chord structures – and if not handled correctly could be worthy of the palmiest of face-palms. Yet LOTP had this ability, this astonishing talent, to turn it into something that makes you want to, quote, ‘move your body to the bass line’.

You can see this from the very promising beginning of their debut album, Fantasy Black Channel. It is kick-started by ‘Hot Tent Blues’ – a restless opener with a repeated riff that gets more dominant and angry as it progresses; like a little kid’s growing tantrum in the supermarket isle when its mother doesn’t hand over the ice-cream he so desperately screams for. Along with ‘VW’, it sounds like an evil genius pumped on hash whilst conducting a triumphant orchestra of synthesizers. Already, we are hooked.

So right from the start we’re already asking for more of this ridiculous and downright incredible sound, yet it becomes clear that Late of the Pier have no interest in sticking to it. The album is positively crawling with a great range of sounds, all as brilliant as each other. The huge, epic orchestral numbers work beautifully alongside more fast urgent tracks, including the unforgettable ‘Space and the Woods’, which sounds like Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ has had the shit beaten out of it followed by a brutal yet brilliant 21st Century pop makeover. Along with this comes the fast and sweaty ‘Whitesnake’, which sounds like the inside of a hyperactive child’s head after a 24 hour Smarties binge. Halfway through, the track unexpectedly  breaks down to a crisp piano, which sounds like a faster, more pumped-up and more brilliant version of Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’. It also has that horse-galloping vibe reminiscent of Muse’s ‘Knights of Cydonia’.

And then there are the longer, even more unpredictable tracks like ‘The Enemy Are the Future’. Here, just about everything in the song feels dangerous, unexpected and just fucking awesome. The whirring, quirky synthesizers create the impression of a retro Game Boy having a nervous mechanical breakdown; the dynamics in Eastgate’s vocals create a sense of unease, and the whole mixture is shaken-up with a restless, jumpy tempo. The case is somewhat similar with ‘Bathroom Gurgle’. Eastgate’s falsetto vocals create a prog-rock atmosphere, which can be compared to those famous wailing vocals from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’. It’s as if he’s acting out a melodramatic death scene in the opera, with the spotlight glaring down at him. Goosebumps.

Of course, the sheer noise and sweat that the album sheds could easily leave one feeling a bit too overwhelmed. Yet Fantasy Black Channel is not just a masterpiece to be marvelled at by snobby-faced old men. It still carries a sense of humour, a randomness that reminds you that whilst they are very talented musicians, Late of the Pier are still just 4 lads from Castle Donington having a bit of fun. For me, this is the album’s icing on the cake. At the end of ‘VW’, for example, somebody shouts ‘Cabbage!’ and asks if anyone can ‘smell snacks’. Their lyrics are also just plain weird, with Eastgate telling us about “falling over aeroplanes” and “wanting to be derelict”. This hilarity it’s works to great effect against the band’s complex musicality. It leaves you wondering whether LOTP took themselves seriously as skilled musicians (which they were quite capable of being) or just taking the piss a little bit. That’s unique. The charm is the added sweetener.

So there you have it. Fantasy Black Channel is an album of sheer musical talent, yet shaken-up with a sense of unpredictability and chaos, and sprinkled with a sense of humour and fun. It’s innovative yet likeable, complicated yet enjoyable, brilliant yet brutal. Quite simply, a total mindfuck of brilliance.

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