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earinfluxion

5 October 2016

The
Legendary Pink Dots: Pages of Aquarius (Metropolis)

Over
35 years in, Dutch psychedelic curiosity factory The Legendary Pink
Dots are still going strong. In fact, I had the pleasure of seeing
them recently in Portland (for the first time since 2000!),
and they were just as good as other times I’ve seen them, and yet substantially different. What of their latest, then, so far into their discography
that one truly loses count amongst all the collections and original
albums combined? To be fair, I have not kept up fully with their
output over the intervening years, but Pages of Aquarius feels
simultaneously like an update and LPD through and through. The mix of
the album is strange to me, often with Edward Ka-Spel’s voice far
above the music — consider “Touching the Forelock,” whose
characteristically wonky electronic tracks feel oddly flimsy relative to
Ka-Spel’s vocal. I find it to be the case on “The Greatest Story
Ever Told” as well, wherein Ka-Spel’s vocals clearly dominate. And
yet Ka-Spel is such a key player in LPD’s œuvre that it feels
entirely appropriate, even if it sounds a little off balance. In any
case, that has little to do with the songs themselves, which have
what feels a bit like a renewed enthusiasm, with some of the
immediacy of some of their most revered output like The Maria Dimension.
Perhaps I’m projecting my own enthusiasm to hear it onto their vibe
as a group, though — as inevitable as that is. Ka-Spel’s limericky
rhymes are in top form, often using cadence, rhyme, and wordplay to
the best effect. Many of these tracks feel like the more insular core
duo of Ka-Spel and Phil Knight (a.k.a. The Silver Man), lacking
obvious contributions of other players. Absent are the horns of Niels
Van Hoornblower, which came to be somewhat of a signature of their
90s output into the 00s, or the loose dub of Ryan Moore’s drumming,
or the high drama strings of Patrick Wright. Instead, tiny electronic
drum tracks tick away under Knight and longtime engineer Raymond Steeg’s soundscapes
and synths, only occasionally layering in some guitar courtesy of
relatively recent addition, Erik Drost. What feels like a
concise and focused, more song-based album at first begins to unfold
into something more elaborate and sprawling as its nine tracks roll
on.

Pages Of Aquarius by Legendary Pink Dots

“Credibility” is a dreamy, stark ballad in the middle,
conspicuous in how reserved it feels, with a coda that features a
descending organ that recalls their 2000 album A Perfect Mystery’s
“Skeltzer Speltzer.” It begins rather plainly but by the time
it’s approaching the seven-minute mark, it’s bloomed into something
organic, loose, and enchanted. It’s tracks like”Credibility” and
“Prodigal” that lend Pages of Aquarius a certain languid quality,
with an almost misleading calm that is tempered by the tense expanse
of its final two tracks. “Don’t Go There / Page Aquarian / Jacob’s
Ladder” and “The Weight of Water Parts 1-4” both feel akin to
LPD’s ongoing series of improvisations and experimentation, the
“Premonitions,” but I can only assume these are more deliberately
juxtaposed and sequenced and conceived to merit unique names tied to
this effort. More than in a long time, it feels like Pages of
Aquarius
really rewards close and repeated listens, with “Page
Aquarian” in particular delivering much buried in its details
amidst a keen sense of deep space. These two sprawls cover quite a
lot of terrain with significant time to wander, never hurried. As
such, they comprise nearly half of an album that starts off feeling
concise and perhaps almost even straightforward. But whereas the
triptych contains among the airiest and most sublime moments of the
album, “The Weight of Water” is partitioned into fairly sharp
contrasting segments, starting with a pronounced electronic throb but
eventually letting the bottom fall out for another gloomy and languid
passage, with its third passage in particular recalling the patient
glide of Stars of the Lid before Ka-Spel’s speech comes through with
utmost clarity. It is quite refreshing to my ears, particularly
having not heard some of their other more recent output, to hear LPD
flexing their talents as a duo far more, a decidedly different vibe
from their turn of the century band.

Buy it: Metropolis

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