On 19th October 2018, BLANCMANGE will release a new album of ten songs composed by Neil Arthur, and arranged, co-produced and mixed with Benge (Wrangler/Creep Show) at the latter’s Memetune Studios in Cornwall.
This follows their collaborative project Fader (their debut album First Light came out in June 2017) and they also worked together on last year’s Blancmange record Unfurnished Rooms, described by Mojo as ‘detached, wistful, touched by computer-age unease.’
The new album is focussed on similar themes but there’s a new energy to the approach – wistfulness turns to anger; dislocation morphs into a powerful desire to be somewhere else, with a sense of someone fighting for forward motion, dreams, family and the joys of life while seeing, as Arthur puts it, ‘the pretence of a normal world being erased.’
This spirit is supported by the music, which is vital, percussive, full of analogue machine-noise and chunky basslines. The opener Distant Storm features dreamy vocoder vocals over Moroder Moogs, immediately creating a sense of space as Arthur soul-searches. He describes the track as the feeling ‘when something familiar becomes unfamiliar’ and for all the potential horror in that, there’s also a sense of discovery which you can hear in this big, horizon-eyeballing dance workout.
The edgy, propulsive In Your Room is about being away from the world outside. Arthur describes sunlit walls and crystal clear senses but shadows the imagery with music that presses in – obsessive and claustrophobic rather than restful. Meanwhile the narrator in I Smashed your Phone recalls a domestic incident, ‘the consequences of which will reverberate until eternity.’ Guilty, plaintive, defensive and with a trace of anger camouflaged as sarcasm, the phone-smasher relates the event in epic, cinematic terms, even recalling the early primitive man scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s an every day incident that reveals an awful lot about people, relationships and our interaction with technology, while the music is another foundation-shaking synthesiser anthem.
This frustration with modern devices and the limitations of people-defining algorithms and how such things are manipulating communication, the work place and daily life (people behaving like machines and using each other like robots) is also expressed through Talking To Machines. But there’s a twist! After all the whole album is created by humans interacting with electricity and circuits. On this track, Arthur and Benge revel in the artificial sounds, using them like power surges underneath the John Lennon-like vocals and early ’70s vintage beats – the ghosts at the heart of this machine-made song.
The tracks Gravel Drive Syndrome and Not A Priority are most definitely about human beings. The former is a horrific portrayal of social climbing at any cost and the emptiness at its core, woven like an old folktale by Arthur over an imaginary pint. Arthur describes Not A Priority as being about ‘people who are apparently not seen by others, who have a sense that you don’t count or are seen as not important.’ A glimmering, ambient pop song with fellow electronic artist Hannah Peel featuring on the chorus, this is one of the highlights on the album, balanced between melancholy and a hope for renewed self-belief.
Guitars break through the synthesizers on the dark TV Debate which features a series of channel-surfing images about contemporary politics and vacuous celebrity shows, while Benge’s The Andromeda Strain-styled keyboards and David Rhodes’ fret-work on Leaves create some of the most atmospheric moments on the LP. White Circle, Black Hole continues the theme of new beginnings (in this case when you’re haunted by a recurring nightmare and at your lowest point) and the record reaches its open-road finale on the album’s title-track, Wanderlust. This bitter-sweet song explores the longing to be somewhere else, a craving for new experiences and the ‘good stuff’ of living in the moment. There’s sadness in what change can bring, as children leave home, relationships break up and so on, but there’s also wonder in the letting go of the past and moving on.
Wanderlust is Neil Arthur’s second album in 2018, following his collaboration with electronic solo artist Jez Bernholz on Near Future’s debut album Ideal Home in May. Since Blancmange’s Stephen Luscombe was forced by illness to stop touring or recording after 2011’s Blanc Burn, the band has continued with Arthur at the helm via Semi Detached (darker but still pop-savvy) in 2015 and their first ever instrumental album Nil By Mouth (ambient, new sense of freedom) later in the same year. Commuter 23 (minimalist, brutalist, raw with moments of hazy Krautrock) arrived in 2016, to be followed by Unfurnished Rooms last autumn which also featured John Grant on the closing track, Don’t Get Me Wrong.
Continuing its evolution Blancmange has been reaching new audiences of late with the 2017 remix of What’s the Time? (for Disco Halal) and a new collaboration between Blancmange and Kincaid, Fat Head, due for release this summer, both tracks being widely supported and played by the likes of Ame (Innervisions Label) and Solomun.
Blancmange will be playing at The Wardrobe in Leeds on Thursday 29th November.