Prog-influenced Nottingham quintet The Chemistry Experiment are set to release their second album, the intriguingly titled â€œGongs Played By Voiceâ€, through Fortuna POP! in January, some ten years after the release of their debut album â€œThe Melancholy Death Ofâ€¦â€. Housed in beautiful artwork by the Bulgarian artist Gyukov, a set designer in communist Bulgaria, the new album sees the band conclude the transition from their indie roots with nine beautifully arranged and recorded songs that encompass such influences as Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy, Tindersticks, King Crimson and Soft Machine.
Formed by songwriter Steven J. Kirk (vocals, guitar) and Paul Stone (bass) and completed by Emily Kawasaki (keyboards), Lee Tombs (flute, vocals) and Martin Craig (drums), two of the band have long since departed from their Nottingham origins with Kirk now resident in Bologna, Italy and Kawasaki living in Brighton where she plays in krautrock grrrlgruppe Slum Of Legs. The release of â€œThe Melancholy Death Ofâ€¦â€ in 2005 saw critical if not financial success with the NME awarding the record 8/10 and describing it as â€œStrange, gargantuan rhythms, weird instrumentation and a singer who sounds like Kurt Wagner under ten feet of snowâ€.
If the geographic dispersion of the band wasnâ€™t challenging enough, in 2009 drummer Craig was diagnosed with MS. â€œIt has made drumming somewhat trickyâ€, he says.â€œI still gnash my teeth to the rhythm of the music though, and I feel honoured to join the company of Ronnie Lane, Clive Burr, and Don van Vliet.â€ All of which may go some way to explaining the My Bloody Valentine-like gestation of their second album, although Tombs posits a more positive explanation, saying, â€œ â€˜Difficult second albumsâ€™ are difficult because people spend 5-10 years gathering up what they need for the first, and then have to knock out the next one in a matter of months. We overcame that problem by taking ten years.â€
Loosely based around the theme of seasons, elements and the sea, the album opens with the wondrous â€œHung Lamâ€, followed by the track â€œRainy Dayâ€, on which Stone employed the little known technique of water percussion. â€œMartin and I started swirling water in saucepans and tapping the edge of the pan to make the woooo noise. Iâ€™d heard something similar on an Edith Piaf recordâ€.
The fantastically catchy â€œLeo & Magicianâ€ has an even more fantastical plot. â€œItâ€™s about a scarecrow who runs away from his farm, leaving the farmer (Leo) without a way to protect his crops from the birds,â€ says Kirk. â€œLuckily Leoâ€™s friend Magician comes along, and although he canâ€™t help him with the scarecrow due to union rules, he turns Leo into a cat to scare away the birds, and that is why birds to this day are scared of cats. The scarecrow also abducts Leoâ€™s wife but I didnâ€™t want to go into that in the song.â€
Other songs include the beautiful â€œWe Have Seasonsâ€, â€œJandek Bakeryâ€, â€œThe Event and the Experimentâ€ (â€œItâ€™s kinda the same story as Valis by Phillip K Dickâ€) and a cover of Leonard Cohenâ€™s â€œStory of Isaacâ€, but perhaps the standout track on the album is â€œChannel Light Vesselâ€ which Kirk describes as the best song he ever wrote and says, â€œThis is about the sea, and sailors, and a boy I read about on BBC news who impaled himself on a fence trying to pick conkers.â€
The album concludes with the nine minute long â€œA Good Windâ€, describing a windy day on the coast of Australia and the classic battle between good and evil, nature and synthetic, human and vocoder. Like many things about The Chemistry Experiment itâ€™s unique, slightly odd, and shouldnâ€™t really work but somehow does. In the ten years since their last record a thousand faceless indie bands have made a thousand dreary records, while The Chemistry Experiment have ploughed their idiosyncratic furrow to produce â€œGongs Played By Voicesâ€, the perfect distillation of their strange and distinct vision.
Tracklisting:1. Hung Lam