y primary impression of the song “The Individual” by Spiritualized upon first hearing it nearly a decade ago (I can’t remember if this was triggered by what someone had written about it) was of being in the middle of a cloud. A large, angry, turbulent, squawking cloud, but a cloud nonetheless; the free saxophone playing in the middle was surrounded by something billowing and shapeless. On their new album US, Flying Saucer Attack and Third Eye Foundation fellow-travelers Amp (mostly just Richard Walker and Karine Charff, but here joined by a cast that includes saxophonist Ray Dickaty, who used to play with… Spiritualized) have managed to make a record almost entirely out of that type of experience. What worked in isolation on Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, however, becomes tiring and tired over a full LP.
“Opening” begins the record with a layered, droning sound like an idling photocopier before the guitars start issuing forth distortion and Dickaty’s saxophone and Charff’s wordless vocals start to duet in the background. It’s a bracing start, but by the time the penultimate “Endgame” is taking up eleven minutes by covering what feels like nearly identical territory (except now Charff sounds more like the vocals from a song like Can’s “Mushroom”), the charm has definitely worn off. And you’ve still got the seven minutes of muted roar that is “Iconisis” to go!
It’s not all bad: “Opening” may succeed out of novelty as much as sound, but “Yousay” is as great in context as it is in isolation. It opens with an almost folk sound, soft chimes, an acoustic guitar and Charff actually singing (as opposed to on “Get Here”, where the slurred words are sucked out of her mouth 100th Window style), and the decision to build up to a fever pitch of noise rather than starting there gives the track somewhere to go. Too many of the other tracks either aimlessly swell and flutter at the top of their lungs for the duration (“Level Devil”) or else never take flight at all (“Will You, I’m Lost”).
Of course, lack of dynamic variation notwithstanding, these are gorgeous sounds; all of the electric guitars sound vast and roaring, like the angry ghosts of actual instruments and Walker and Charff have a surprisingly good ear for a digital beat; in “Lopsided”’s case, that’s practically all there is to the song. Even Dickaty and Walker’s “Think Don’t Think,” which is just sax squeals over voice samples, sounds better than it probably deserves to.
Amp tries to walk the delicate line between song craft and noise sculpture, and they occasionally succeed, but there’s a reason many of their contemporaries have moved on. Too much of US fails, neither conventional song nor expressionistic sonic vista, and so while a few tracks especially “Yousay” and the quasi-balladic “Implosion” retain interest, too many of them merge with the wallpaper. That kind of aural fog and drizzle rarely makes engaging weather to walk around in for an hour, and chances are in Amp’s case you won’t want to.