There's a scene in The Man Who Fell to Earth - the film that inspired Rich File and Wendy Rae Fowler's choice of moniker - in which the alien humanoid played by David Bowie and his partner have sex, Bowie secreting extraterrestrial goo as the pair follow their physical urges, emotional needs apparently out of the equation. Thankfully, Rich and Wendy's collaboration is a much closer, tidier, yet equally otherworldly affair, inspired by the starry desert sky and consummated with celestial harmonies.
WFTE's debut, conceived at Rancho de la Luna Studios in the High Desert of California, represents something of a meeting of minds, given its creators' markedly different musical pasts. Somewhere in between Richard's trip-hop work with UNKLE and Wendy's surf rock leanings in earthlings?, the duo discovered the simplicity of hushed vocals and brushed guitars, the sound of desolation heightened by the epic production lent to tracks such as ‘Burn Away’.
Rich and Wendy admit to a shared love of krautrock and this is most evident in the album's earlier tracks, looping bass lines driving ‘Spin This Town’ and ‘Sovereign’ along as stabs of eastern guitar and piano flash by overhead. But the foreboding sense of death and helplessness against the unforgiving desert are unmistakeably American: ‘Lights Out’ and album closer ‘Undone’ unfold like the soundtrack to some kind of cosmic western, tinged with the sense of vastness that formed the backdrop to many a classic gunslinger shootout. There will be comparisons to Portishead and Massive Attack, but in many senses this is music that shares more in common with Mark Lanegan's work with Soulsavers, battered with dust and laden with the loneliness of the outlaw.
An exercise in mastery and control, this is an album that threatens rather than attacks - which is maybe its frustration as much as its success. Drums roll like distant wagons that never seem to get closer, and the desire for the bigger beats of Rich's UNKLE work can sometimes gnaw away at the listener's patience. But WFTE's world doesn't promise to welcome us with open arms - we enter it at our peril and must deal with it on our host's terms, much as Bowie does (in rather tragic circumstances) on the big screen.
Happily, unlike the Thin White Duke's doomed mission on Earth, Rich and Wendy's partnership turns out to be a rather weird and wonderful marriage.
We Fell To Earth - 'The Double' (live at London ICA)
We Fell To Earth