I recently watched a BBC documentary about bubbles. Fascinating. The mathematical properties inherent within the humble soap bubble are simply mind boggling.
Also boggling are the bewildering skills and attention to detail that Bubblemath bring to their work. It has taken 15 years to record a follow up to 2001’s Such Fine Particles of the Universe, but the Minnesotans have not been completely inactive and Edit Peptide is finally here, courtesy of the good folk at Cuneiform Records.
Enthusiastically spurred on by the new material it is good to report that Bubblemath are as eclectic as ever. There are no formulas to be stuck to and the result is an exhilarating romp through a wide variety of styles and influences. There’s a ferocious joyfulness to it all, a burning desire to get on to the next bit, and like a burst of musical Tourette’s it’ll no doubt be far too frenetic for listeners of a nervous disposition. This band can play and they continually stretch themselves, often in quite unexpected ways, but that doesn’t mean that the hooks and melodies have been left in the practice room and there are keen pop sensibilities at work here, all delivered with a good dose of humour.
I have nothing against the apeing of classic Prog styles per se, although this does appear to be the Holy Grail for many so-called progressive music enthusiasts. Sounding like Genesis, for example, can be quite pleasant but you have to add something new otherwise it’s nothing more than a nostalgia driven tribute. What keeps me wanting to hear new music, despite the quivering shelves of it that I’ve bought over the last four decades, is the discovery of something different that heads in new and previously unconsidered directions, thus triggering the imagination. I like a nice big helping of ‘quirk’ stirred into my musical stew and Bubblemath do this with disquieting ease, as evidenced here on 12-minute opener Routine Maintenance which announces it’s arrival by sharp staccato chords before bouncing around like a space hopper down a fire escape. Buckle up, it’s going to be a hairy ride!
The twists and turns are accomplished with pin point accuracy, and how they manage to add the tuneful elements, be they thundering bass heavy riffs or unorthodox vocal melody lines, beggars belief. Embedded within the disconcerting swirl of Routine Maintenance are oases of calm, delicate melodies of flute and piano with some gorgeous singing from Jonathan G. Smith. It’s soon off again with the afterburners on and you just have to hang on rather than guess where they’re going next; jarring and dissonant one moment, delicate and emotional the next. Vicious and cutting but with a warm centre, it throws you off balance, but keeping your footing and persevering is advised.
It is the engaging lack of muso seriousness that adds the joie de vivre to Edit Peptide, it’s deviously clever but the band are clearly doing it for their own enjoyment first, if anyone else likes the product of them having a laugh in the studio then that’s just great, but don’t go thinking that this is loose and scattershot stuff, you don’t ‘do’ math rock without deploying a slide rule accuracy to your arrangements.
With the band line-up stable since 1998, the delivery of the tricky second has proven to be all the trickier by real life getting in the way in many and varied forms, keyboardist Kai Esbensen opining that the extended delay was advantageous to the band as it allowed them all to become better musicians. A quick glance at the instrument list below will show the breadth of the album’s scope – even the studio banjo is pressed into service. Avoid That Eye Candy has a funkier edge and is a more concise than the opener, comparisons are pretty useless here but these first two tracks, and the more forthright and agreeably psychotic Get A Lawn, contain subtle indicators that direct me to echolyn’s marvellous As The World, and as that is one of my favourite albums I’m not going to complain, but the twists and turns of Edit Peptide are much sharper and more unexpected. The rhythms pound with slashes of keys and guitar, sometimes it’s very dense while at others it’s as light as a feather.
Edit Peptide is an exhilarating white knuckle ride that fans of their previous album are sure to enjoy. At times jaw-dropping, the technique is used to service the music and the pop elements are frequently on hand, despite the skewed nature of the compositions. Perpetual Notion holds the tune despite clattering bass, guitar and keyboard rhythms, a peculiar cadence over which the vocals roll, hints of Magellan seeping through in the wilful confidence that the band clearly have in this otherworldly music.
And they are right to be confident. It isn’t often that a band release an album after such a long hiatus that dazzles and bewilders in equal measure, a stunning statement of mind-melding complexity.
There’s a stately off-kilter swagger to A Void That I Can Depart To, which would no doubt make a wonderful soundtrack to a particularly strange film. The interactions between the players are almost intuitive, the instruments arranged beautifully to convey the frenetic pulses that punctuate the more melodic sections with everybody contributing magnificent and almost super-human performances. After the blustering outrage of Get A Lawn, Making Light of Traffic is a shimmering thing that eases in on a sea of chattering crickets. The vocal melodies are gorgeous, the acrobatic nature of the music accentuating the skills in delivering them. Xylophones, chimes and sax solos are shoe-horned in and there’s a glowering outbreak of King Crimson with spidery Tippet-like upright piano. Wonderful.
A deft drum pattern and languid bass introduce Destiny Repeats Itself which soon winds up into a quite beautiful frenzy, as the intricate arrangements are delivered with uncanny ease. Finally, The Sensual Con conjures images of how marvellous the world would be if this kind of music was more readily broadcast to the masses: compelling, sophisticated, thought provoking, engaging. The Gentle Giant-ish vocal fugue is another intriguing diversion, followed by a full-tilt KC-scored chase sequence to a grand conclusion.
Edit Peptide is a quite magnificent achievement and Bubblemath are the musical equivalent of releasing two dozen squirrels onto a frozen lake. They slide and jump and skid and crash and bump and run. It makes little obvious sense but it’s a wonder to behold!
01. Routine Maintenance (12:41)
02. Avoid That Eye Candy (3:53)
03. Perpetual Notion (6:56)
04. A Void That I Can Depart To (10:07)
05. Get a Lawn (6:20)
06. Making Light of Traffic (8:58)
07. Destiny Repeats Itself (7:23)
08. The Sensual Con (7:36)
Total Time – 63:04
Blake Albinson – Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Nylon String Guitar, Keyboards, Tenor Sax, Vocals
Jay Burritt – Electric Bass, Fretless Synth Bass, Fretless Electric Bass, Upright Electric Bass, Vocals
Kai Esbensen – Keyboards, Vocals
James Flagg – Drums & Percussion, Vocals
Jonathan G. Smith – Vocals, Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Flute, Clarinet, Chimes, Gong, Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Mountain Dulcimer, Mandolin, Banjo
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Year Of Release: 26th May 2017