Space rock pioneer returns with uplifting results...

Thirty years is a long time to wait for something. Liverpool FC have waited this same period of time for their next league title win. In music long gaps between releases is not uncommon. PIXIES fans had to wait over 20 years between ‘Trompe le Monde’ and ‘Indie Cindy’. TLC went fifteen years between ‘3D’ and ‘TLC’ and there was a whopping forty-three-year gap between Shuggie Otis releasing ‘Inspiration Information’ in 1974 and 2018’s ‘Inter-Fusion’.

Now Peter Kember has joined this elite club. ‘All Things Being Equal’ is Kember’s first Sonic Boom album since 1989's ‘Spectrum’. During that release Kember has played in Experimental Audio Research (E.A.R.), The Field Trip, and Spectrum as well as producing MGMT, Panda Bear, Beach House and Cheval Sombre.

After a first listen it everything is business as usual. Sonically ‘All Things Being Equal’ plays with a larger pallet of sounds and tones than ‘Spectrum’. Everything just sounds richer and fuller. Kember’s sonic scope is grander too, along with his attention to detail. Unlike ‘Spectrum’ this album was composed entirely on synths. No guitars were used, or harmed, during the making of this album. The lack of guitars is not really apparent until you have listened a few more times and had a chance to digest everything.

The album began life in 2015 as a series of instrumental sonic jams. Rumour has it they were nearly released as such, but Kember liked how they had turned out and decided to keep working on the project with the idea to add some vocals. Kember’s vocals throughout are thoughtful and full of promise for the future, rather than the more recent sombre Spectrum albums.

The album’s opener ‘Just Imagine’ opens with a hiss, before Kember’s trademark swoony synths kick in. “Just imagine every day / Just imagine anyway / Just Imagine let us just say / Just imagine time away...” he croons as the music gently swirls, and envelopes, around you.

As ‘Just Imagine’ progresses the music intensifies but keeps at a gently meditative pace. Then Kember delivers possibly the lyric of the song and the album: “Just imagine what you can do / Just imagine let it all come through / Just imagine that the back of your mind / Just imagine that you'll be fine...” This is the kind of positivity that we need at the moment, coupled with the dreamy synths makes not only for a devastating opener, but it also sets up everything that follows.

‘Spinning Coins and Wishing on Clover’ is one of the most musically abrasive songs on the album and the standout moment on the album. As the music slowly passes over each other grinding motifs are created. The are mordant and caustic. As the songs sounds like it is eroding itself Kember repeats, mantra like, “Spinning those coins over and over / Put my faith on a four-leaf clover.”

Throughout, there are parallels, along with nods, to Spacemen 3 the seminal shoegaze drone-rock band Spacemen 3 with Kember formed with Jason Pierce before they acrimoniously called it a day in 1991. In Spacemen 3 Kember used swaths of sound to create, sometimes aggressive, soundscapes, but here everything is more meditative. Imagine the more buoyant parts of ‘Playing With Fire’ mixed with the playfulness of E.A.R.

At times ‘Spectrum’ was tinged with sadness, ‘Angel’ being one of the album's bleaker moments, but ‘All Things Being Equal’ feels hopeful, if not optimistic at times. This might be down to Kember now living in Portugal. Surrounded by luscious parks and gardens helping to make his world view a little sunnier.

There is enough progression between the two albums to make everything interesting. At times Sonic Boom feels like a long-lost friend you bump into by chance. He is the same person he was in 1989, but he has also grown a lot too. This comes across in ‘All Things Being Equal’. He is not as biting as he once was. And why the music is deliciously layered it is not as vitriolic as his previous releases.

The ultimate question is: was the album worth a thirty year wait? The answer is a resounding YES. Just don’t leave it so long next time though…

8/10

Words: Nick Roseblade

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