Flotation Toy Warning’s 2004 debut Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck is held in high esteem and was a difficult though rewarding effort, if a little cumbersome at 10 songs and 72 minutes. A cult cult-classic, if you will, that perhaps left the band saddled with the same indie baggage as Neutral Milk Hotel post-In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Thirteen years later though the band return with a more streamlined collection that really sounds painstakingly crafted and the result of a labour of over a decade of love rather than the late-30s mortgage repayment we might be wary of. It’s easy to imagine every minutiae has been pored over, the exact instrumentation here, the cymbal sound there, the cadence of every vocal within and only released when everything was perfect.
Opener ‘Controlling The Sea’ could almost be the final track, an atmospheric calling of time as any to the jaunty sounding and mini-operatic ‘On Everything That Is Difficult’ which references Sgt Peppers, Spiders From Mars and everything in between, and is the first real highlight; The Machine That Made Us builds a terrific early head of steam.
While not quite a master and machine concept album, the relationship and control themes of central pieces ‘I Quite Like It When He Sings’ and ‘King Of Foxgloves’, with chiming choirs, upside-down piano and backward orchestrations adorn and embellish the sombre Scott Walker vocals and often mournful subject matter accordingly. Lyrically ‘King Of Foxgloves‘, in particular, is like a strange love note left on the monitor of life as the office door shuts for the last time. Sad, symbolic and gorgeous.
However, The Machine That Made Us lacks the cohesion of, say, Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs at times or an out-and-out big hitter like Neutral Milk Hotel’s Oh Comely, but the anything-goes skip-rat instrumentation policy has been refined into something exquisitely efficient that gives it an unforced dreaminess. Shyly beautiful at its best but verging on generic at its more lacklustre, such as the male choir on Polyphonic Spree-aping, ‘When The Boat Comes Inside Your House’ while ‘Driving Under The Influence Of Loneliness’ is a baroque ‘Everybody Hurts‘.
But, similarly to the la-di-di segment of Oh Comely, when the lo-fi “na-na-nas” come in on ‘To Live For Longer Slides’ it might just be the pivot the whole album rests on as it starts to unravel and freewheel into its closing segments, questioning religion and the insignificance of it all before closer ‘The Moongoose Analogue’, the most introspective piece of all. At over twelve minutes it’s almost like the life of this record flashing before its narrator’s eyes. Split into two distinct suites interlocked by the twin lyrical themes of friendships and loneliness, “couldn’t care less about all your problems, these things you care about don’t bother me” and “there will be no forever, there will be now ‘til the end of time, not much but that much is clear to me”, before the paradoxical and haunting chant of “friends may come and friends may go, but I know you’ll be back for more” fades to metaphorical dust. So when I give this album a cautious 8 rating, I suspect they know I will revisit.
The Machine That Made Us is released on 7th July through Talitres.