Klaxons – Surfing the Void

Surfing the Void finds Klaxons “turning away from the future”. By all accounts this is exactly what Polydor asked of the band when presented with the first cut of the follow-up to their 2007 debut. Turn away from the future please boys and give us something a bit more like the past, you know, a bit more marketable.

If the rumours were true, it would be fascinating to hear that initial draft because Surfing the Void certainly doesn’t feel like a compromise. It fizzes with the frenetic energy that made Myths of the Near Future so compelling. But instead of upping the melodic ante, pop leanings are buried under a noisy, clattering soundtrack dense enough to generate its own black hole.

Sorry, the final frontier references are pretty irresistible. Space and all its infinite possibilities are again writ large across Klaxons’ cosmic canvas. Spliced with some clunky philosophising, there’s lots of talk about “mock suns” and “celestial catastrophes” and something about the future being the past and the past being the future and… to be honest it’s all a bit inane. Literary types may seek deeper meanings from Echoes’ evocation of Russian painter Ivan Aivazovsky’s masterpiece The Ninth Wave, but let’s not forget the album cover features a cat wearing a spacesuit.

Intergalactic felines suggest the Klaxons aren’t particularly interested in competing with Muse for the title of 2010’s most po-faced prog rockers. But they certainly are interested in shedding that troublesome New Rave tag. Egged on by Myth’s highly- strung synths and riffs, the music media (and its unquenchable thirst for spurious genres and eye-rolling puns) belched out yet another disposable epithet guaranteed to have the longevity of a mayfly.

The press probably only needed three minutes to tire of New Rave, so for Klaxons to retreat for three years was a bit of a gamble. In the intervening period, the band clearly decided that maybe rave was actually a bit shit, and if they wanted to make music that would endure longer than a dose of MDMA they should perhaps tone down the happy hardcore.

Surfing the Void is therefore still electro but with more rock, less dance. Okay, Flashover’s shouty, shouty chorus and well-timed breakdowns would have no trouble getting hands in the air, but it’s the only point where rave’s sweaty spirit is overtly referenced.

Ross Robinson (nu-metal producer extraordinaire) has done a fine job of managing what ends up as a subtle transition. Extra Astronomical and Cypherspeed could have easily buckled under the weight of the band’s ambition, but Robinson manages the eye-popping jumble of wiry electronics and obnoxious guitars with a deft hand. It’s no scant praise to say both songs owe much to those masters of noise manipulation The Liars.

Although the album burns through its 38 minutes like a lit fuse, it still manages to accommodate a few textural shifts. Venusia revs up its starry-eyed ambiance with a heavy, quivering baseline. And Echoes’ justifies its position as the album’s inaugural single by pitching Jamie Reynold’s melodic vocal into a swirling mass of multi-layered sounds.

Reynold’s featherweight voice doesn’t always fare so well. While his cockney inflection laces the title track with a bit of snot and bile, the commanding thump of The Same Space almost loses its mojo because Reynolds sounds like he wandered in from a Linkin Park audition.

Surfing the Void should allow Klaxons and Polydor to heave a small sigh of relief. The band has returned after a reasonable absence with a recording that manages to shirk the New Rave hangover without a panicky dash into something totally unrecognisable. The album may lose its footing here and there but there’s still enough rocket fuel in Klaxons’ tank to warrant joining them for another ride.