Gotta admit I'm a sucker for a good LP fanfare, and the debut disc by Notthingham art-poppers Late of the Pier opens up with the right goods: a stately guitar-based anthem entitled "Hot Tent Blues" that happily bursts into a reggae-inflected piece of woozily over-sung romantic angst entitled "Broken." It's a fractured take on the old one-two punch of Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," if Sir Elton sang like Booji Boy were squeezing his boy parts.
The sounds of Gary Numan's early Tubeway Army also figure strongly on Pier's Fantasy Black Channel (Astralwerks). On "Space and the Woods," for instance, a tromping synth bass line is elevated by a high-flying keyb hook, while both "Whitesnake" and hidden track "No Time" deploy a Theremin for that good ol' retro late nite moodiness. Elsewhere, the lads toy with goofy funk whizzery ("The Bears Are Coming") and the kind of glam beats Supergrass has made its own ("Bathroom Gurgle.") The band's not averse to tossing Zappa-esque tempo shifts and weird jerky nasal retentive synth sounds in between the lines, though they never lose hold of their dance rock sensitivities. I haven't heard such an engaging clash of pop and ugly music sensitivities since the first XTC album.
For me, the track where it all kicked in was "Heartbeat." Opening with a set of keyboard triplets that recall "Hot Fun in the Summertime," the song quickly morphs into a herky-jerky series of marshmallow sky lyrics (is singer/songwriter Sam Dust really wailing about "pineapple pieces in brine"?) capped with a high-end synth line soaring over singer Dust's assertion that it's all "just a line." But "Focker" — which breaks up the singer's poppish entreaties that he just wants to "be your friend" with a throbbing old-fashioned prog rock freak-out — was the frosting on the pineapple cake.
The band loves to play Dust's nerve-scratching guitarwork against keyboardist Jack Paradise's Ultravox-y inclinations, and, by and large, the approach works — especially when Dust forgoes the strangulated vocal affectations for a more normal range. Authoritative drummer Rouge Dog Consuela (okay, the pseudo-names are overly cutesy) holds it together even through the album's trickier rhythmic moments. On "The Bears Are Coming" these smart guys even manage to make the overused Sound of Breaking Glass sound fresh. Pere Ubu (or is it Green Day?) would be proud.