[ Fire CD / CD ]
Release Date: Friday 19 May 2017
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There is something both odd and immensely cheering about the arc of Jane Weaver's career. For whatever reason, you don't get many artists hitting their stride after 22 years and eight albums, particularly with something inspired in equal part by Yoko Ono and Polish film director Andrzej Żuławski. But that's precisely what happened with Weaver's 2014 release The Silver Globe. A genuine word-of-mouth hit in a world of overheated hype, it arrived after Weaver had spent decades on the margins: as part of the John Peel-endorsed 90s indie band Kill Laura and the folktronica group Misty Dixon, then as a deeply idiosyncratic solo artist whose work bounced around from acoustic balladry to avant garde electronics and improvisation.
Her releases were never less than interesting, occasionally they were great, and sometimes the wider world appeared to notice - her voice unexpectedly turned up, in sampled form, amid the drizzly moping of Coldplay's post-conscious uncoupling album Ghost Stories. But The Silver Globe still felt like a quantum leap forward, an album that focused her ideas and distilled the contents of her very groovy and carefully curated record collection into 45 minutes of gleaming modern psychedelia, her cut-glass vocals floating over musical backdrops that melded the mesmerising repetitions of krautrock with early 80s synth pop, eerie folk and the kind of obscure soundtracks, library music and experimental electronics that inspired Broadcast and the artists on the acclaimed cult label Ghost Box.
The same names crop up once more as reference points on Modern Kosmology, which refines the sonic blueprint set out on its predecessor, paring it back and increasing its potency in the process. The rhythms are mostly set to "hypnotic pulse", the ghost of Broadcast's late vocalist Trish Keenan haunts the title track, while Valley recalls the creepy atmosphere and plangent electric guitars of early Steeleye Span. These are obviously pretty hip reference points - the stuff that staff picks in independent record shops are made of - and Weaver is hardly the only artist to have alighted on them in recent years. But her real skill lies in her ability to alchemise her dusty source material into pop music.
The prosaic reason for her success might simply be that she's by some distance the best songwriter of the latter-day psych revivalists. Her writing is richly melodic, taut and fat-free. Ten songs whizz by in under 45 minutes, their topics ranging from the distinctly far out - occult goings-on in haunted mansions, spacey invitations to "change your world" - to the noticeably more earthbound: The Lightning Back sounds suspiciously like it's about the necessity for parents to occasionally indulge in child-free "us time". Not even the track that comes complete with Can's original vocalist Malcolm Mooney delivering a pretty fruity-sounding spoken-word voiceover about the transitory nature of human existence feels self-indulgent, which takes some doing.
Elsewhere, the guitars on Loops in the Secret Society sound like those of an early 70s commune-dwelling space-rock band improvising their way to vertical takeoff, but they're harnessed to a really crisp, addictive melody, rather than an open-ended lysergic sprawl. Slow Motion takes fragile vintage electronics and uses them in service of a song that, in a different world, would be a massive hit single. The Architect does something similar with tumbling, funky drums in debt to Malcolm Mooney's old mob and a relentless synthesised throbbing. It says something about how good Weaver is that even the most familiar of influences come alive in her hands. There are certain areas of alt rock where the Neu!-inspired motorik beat feels as tired and hackneyed a trope as Auto-Tuned vocals are in pop-R&B. But opener H>A>K's warp-speed variant on the theme is really thrilling, restoring a propulsive force to the sound that's been worn away through over-use: the whole thing is over and done in three and half minutes.
H>A>K's title is a reference to Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist who used diagram-like abstract paintings to represent her ideas about mysticism and spirituality; you can see why their combination of otherworldliness and precision appealed to the author of Modern Kosmology. It's an album that demonstrates Weaver's rare talent for a largely forgotten skill of the first psychedelic era. It doesn't sound anything at all like Jefferson Airplane or Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, but it does what they did on White Rabbit and See Emily Play respectively, delivering music that sounds like it's transmitted from the outer limits in sharp, concentrated, accessible doses. All the unearthly power, none of the excess.
- The Guardian
2 Did You See Butterflies?
3 Modern Kosmology
4 Slow Motion
5 Loops In The Secret Society
6 The Architect
7 The Lightning Back 3:38
10 I Wish