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The Speed of Sound - Virtual Reality 123 / Charlotte 12" Version (Big Stir Records)

29 September 2022

A double A-side? Whatever next? In a world where artists can, and indeed do, release their latest creative urges as fast as their little legs will carry them or dump a 27-track album release out of the blue, and seemingly do so with no plan or promotional prospects, I am glad that there are bands around who still put out double A-side singles. And I’m old enough to appreciate the gesture. It might not fit with the modern modus operandi, but it means the world to me.

“Virtual Reality 123” comes first, and it doesn’t feel like an obvious single, at least not to begin with. Again, a touch of subversion that gets my approval, or put another way, I’ll give a thumbs up to their lifting of two fingers to pop song convention. The song proper then coalesces out of dramatic soundscapes, cavernous and doom-laden musical troughs, and thunderous sonic punctuation. And then, something more conventional springs like Odysseus from his Wooden Horse, musical geeks bearing gifts perhaps, and what results is a subdued but fascinating song.

For my money, “Charlotte” is the real gem here, taking the band’s more usual jauntiness and jangle and seemingly running it through a Bauhausian filter. It rumbles on relentless and gothic urges, is dark and delicious and occasionally explodes in salvos of spiraling guitars and shimmering sonics before dropping back into nothing but beguiling vocals.

What we have on display here is the power of the 12”, again a concept that might be lost in the modern age. But when a song’s length was determined by the size of the vinyl disc it called home, it was the 12” format that was home to experimentation and adventurousness. It allowed for a chance to evolve and expand, develop and warp the original song into something artier, freer, odder and wonderfully so. And that is what I hear happening with this odd yet fantastic release.

Perhaps it is because I am a recent convert to this band that I haven’t heard them in this mode. Perhaps they just fancied spreading their creative wings a bit. Whatever the reason, I like it. I like it a lot.

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