ShapeShiftingAliens are a strange and rare phenomenon in that they seem to make music which seems to sound like part of the future yet openly tip their collective hat, some sort of neon-lit, metallic fedora presumably, to many eras of past musical exploration. It’s a musical mixing pot that names such as Bowie, Eno and Reznor have drunk from to great effect and this Swedish duo are perfect company for those fellow future-retro musical contradictions.
Despite the possible Talking Heads reference that makes up Jen K. Wilson’s nome de plume, Quick Beat Save leans much towards smoother, more subdued and languid sounds. If there is a connection at all it manifests itself in a similar non-conformist mind set rather than in the music itself. The same desire to merge the avant-garde with accessible pop, the same blurring of generic lines, the same exploratory nature but where Rhode Island School of Design’s finest were known for anxiousness and angularity, not to mention later world music dabbling, Quick Beat Save plays with dance vibes and minimalist synths, classical sounds and glitchy deliveries. Wrap all this in muffled and muted production, throw in vocals that seem to lie just out of earshot and her beguiling songs find their own unique spaces to inhabit.
They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. Similarly you can tell a lot about a musician by looking at who has accompanied them on their musical journey thus far. Making your way in any original and creative field is full of interesting and often unexpected twists, opportunities and collaborations and all this creates an imprint, a cross between a fingerprint, a musical DNA and a family tree. Examine that and you can learn a lot about an artist before you even meet them.
With heroes including Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, time spent as a post rock explorer, sharing stages with the likes of Low, Pan American and Spectrum, writing film score music and a move into the improvisational world of free jazz, you get a feel for the scope and exploratory nature of Nathan Yeager’s mind.
And of those early references and years served before the mast, the two areas which seem to inform The Last Lighthouse most heavily are those hours spent ingesting the progressive electro-experiments of Tangerine Dream and the musical mind set towards composing music suited as much to a film score as a live performance.
The first track, It’s Been a Hell of a Year, is less an opening salvo but more just drifts into the listeners consciousness, a sonorous dreamscape which brings to mind the celestial music of The Enid or the more recent elegantly gossamer creations of SPC ECO. By the time we have got to the wonderfully named March of The Tortoise new elements have been added to this chilled template. The tracks become more confident, more structured, beat driven and brilliantly glitchy and compelling in their oddness. At times, as these two worlds of pastoral charm and clinical futurism clash, it sounds as if you have accidently pressed play on two very different albums yet you can’t quite pull yourself away from the hypnotic result.
Sonoluminescence is a weave of drama and drive and Last Night in Pine Bush NY seems elemental, music built from the primal sounds of nature; otherworldly, ancient and organic. The album’s swan song, Theme From The Last Lighthouse, is a mercurial blend of Vangelis sound tracking, mood music, and beats and noises seemingly being picked up via some sort of deep space monitoring.
You could see these pieces, as Nathan surely does, as a series of sound tacks to short films but an interesting creative twist would be if someone would make the films based on listening to the music. I’m not sure what those would look like but I know I would be at the front of the queue for tickets.