Warm Digits - Flight of Ideas(Memphis Industries)

Warm Digits – Flight of Ideas(Memphis Industries)

Collaborative albums have a mixed history for every release where the combined work of artists takes flight, there are ten or more clunkers that try to cram as many songs “featuring” other name artists on an album as possible, in order to get a hit or, these days, clicks.

Warm Digits aka multi-instrumentalists Andrew Hodson and Steve Jefferis, return with Flight of Ideas which is very much a collaborative record. It features vocal contributions from Maximo Park’s Paul Smith, The Lovely Eggs, The Orielles, Rozi Plain and The Delgados’ Emma Pollock. It sounds like the duo have been left to run riot with their mates in the Radiophonic Workshop with somewhat mixed results.

The duo from Newcastle and Manchester say they are exploring “how ideas and theories can live on as received wisdom long beyond their sell-by date. Digging up dusty pockets of history and long-neglected psychological research, they were surprised to find much that seemed suddenly relevant again.” So their attempts to uncover the past find a prescience in modernity, and modern life’s reliance on a deluge of technology. A constant dizzying flow of social media imagery and information that we can’t possibly process, which they describe as a kind of disconnect – “a rapid shifting of ideas with only superficial associative connections between them”. This ties to the album’s sound too – the vintage synths spliced with samples, rock textures and vocal contributions from the indie world framed in modern production; its a bricolage of the lost and found.

A cavalcade of synths, motorik live sounding drums and slashing guitars usher in the album opener ‘Frames and Cages’ , a collision of retro keyboards with slashing riffs that bring to mind early Kraftwerk and U2‘s ‘Discotheque‘, and it’s a smart beginning. Following it up with the pounding ‘Feel the Panic‘, featuring the Northern sneer of The Lovely Eggs’ vocalist Holly Ross, is a good one two punch; this whirling dervish of bright kaleidoscopic electronics spins with samples and dances on the spot jeeringly, with paranoid vocals that tap into the feeling of utter bewilderment with our modern lives, interspersed with clever melodic hooks, touches of The Human League or International Teachers of pop, this is rather good.

From here things go a little downhill with a kind of indulgence creeping in of a studio project, where boffins congratulate each other on how great their concoction is. ‘The View from Nowhere’ laces a more evocative soundscape with the more artful vocals of Emma Delgaldo. Whilst it’s effective, it does feels like something you’ve heard before. Instrumentals like ‘I’m Ok, you’re Ok’ and ‘Replication’ could be the theme tunes to 70s sci-fi programmes but aren’t very memorable. The jerky ‘Fools Tomorrow’ featuring Paul Smith from Maximo Park sounds like a messy New Order demo from their Technique era, but nowhere near as good, and the vocal effect on Smith’s vocals paired with the frantic beats and bouncy ball synths are all a little too busy and distracting.

Shake the Wheels Off’ featuring The Orielles, is initially diverting a kind of funky post punk number like Talking heads sprinkled with a youthful energy that wrestles with gender identity, but it ends up sounding a little unfinished and never quite takes off. Rozi Plain is a little lost amidst the beats and blips of ‘Everyone Nervous‘, her pared back delivery kind of drowning in a sea of samples. It sounds like she’s sent the vocal take via Whatsapp and the rest has been added later, which leads to an uneven result. In contrast penultimate track ‘False Promises’ grooves on some infectious and insidious guitar and synth sparring like Jean-Michelle Jarre lost in a guitar shop. It’s a hoot.

There are a couple of good songs and intriguing collaborations on this album and flickers of some really bright ideas, but elsewhere it comes off as a studio record that is a little bit too indulgent, like everyone involved is actually having more fun than the listener, which means it’s a patchy record of mostly under-developed ideas, rather than an essential one but if you dig the synth sounds with themes that reflect our obsession with technology then there are moments worthy of uncovering.

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