The Membranes - Dark Matter/ Dark Energy 2

The Membranes – Dark Matter/ Dark Energy

14291080In December 2014, I’d found myself in a depressing position. Having seen Einstürzende Neubauten live the month before, I was surprisingly bereft; I could no longer enjoy gigs. Every band I saw, I compared to that one show. “They were good”, I’d say to my wife, friends, or whomever I’d dragged with me, “but it wasn’t Neubauten good”. You know whose review you’re reading, so you know who saved my faith in music. The 12 Bar was about to close, and my good friend (probably everyone in the UK’s incestuous music scene’s good friend) John Robb had invited me to see The Membranes, to give my favourite haunt the send-off it deserved. I already loved The Membranes, but I was entirely unprepared for what I experienced.

Rather than saying “I can’t touch this, I give up”, as I sighed a month earlier, I took my wife/bandmate/nurse/drill sergeant Natasha aside during “Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder” and said “we need to up our game – THIS is a gig”. As well as the aforementioned classic cut (and a few others), the majority of the show was new material – and it sounded gargantuan. I’ve seen The Membranes a few times now, and every time I heard these new songs, my hunger for them grew.
untitled (199)
Lucky us – they’re equally gigantic on record. “The Universe Explodes Into A Billion Photons of Pure White Light” – errrr – explodes (obviously), and the fireworks display barely lets up from then on. “Do The Supernova” is classic Membranes, sounding as though it would feel right at home on “Kiss Ass, Godhead!”, albeit with bigger production and unapologetic, middle-aged, fucked-up 21st Century clarity.

The post-punk maxim of “every instrument is the lead instrument” is taken to its next logical extreme here – everything is a rhythm instrument – even the vocals. “Money Is Dust” and “Space Junk” groove in the filthiest, Shellac/Skull Defekts way. The latter features a satisfying amount of cowbell, creating the illusion of discarded satellites “booping” each other in our overcrowded thermosphere. The pulsating rhythmic climax of the record is undoubtedly the towering new recording of “If You Enter The Arena, Be Prepared To Deal With The Lions”. I’m a scrawny, crippled thing, but it makes me walk like a boxer, ready to punch the world and knock it out – it’ll do the same to you.

It’s not all knuckle dusters and orc horns, though. Fitting with the subject matter, The Membranes explore many sonic universes, from the murky, dubby grind of “In The Graveyard” to the full-blown psychedelia of “Magic Eye (To See The Sky)”. Joe Incandela, head of the Higgs Boson Project unravels the mysteries of the universe over drifting, astral textures on “The Multiverse Suite”, and the actual sound of the universe forms the ethereal foundation of the Vangelis-esque “Dark Matter”.

At the album’s supermassive conclusion, John Robb muses over death (including that of is father) and impermanence on the funereal, genuinely touching “The Hum of the Universe”. Starting off introspectively, with a recording from a conversation between John and his dad, it breaks out into a thrashing, flailing squall, calling to mind a fight to survive, despite the inevitability of everything coming to an end. Whilst many bands have recently had stabs at the concept album format, including Einstürzende Neubauten‘s “Lament” and Muse‘s “Drones”, I have yet to hear one wrap things up so spectacularly. Not one thread is left loose – it’s the end of the universe – the end of everything!

To think that this is the first Membranes record in 25 years is crazy. Of course, a quarter of a century’s musical evolution is evident, and they sound tighter, bigger and meaner than ever, but the fact that there have been no other releases in that time frame to form stepping stones to these lofty heights makes “Dark Matter/Dark Energy” an even greater achievement. Don’t wait until 2040 for the next one, though!


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.