Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Pre-Med – Einstein’s Day Off

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Back again after a length hiatus I’m afraid… me, not Pre-Med! Although, to be fair, we’ve also not heard as much from Danny Faulkner’s band as we’d have liked since Medication Time burst onto the space-rock scene back in 2006. It does make his occasional forays into studio releases – I see that various line-ups of the band have appeared at a number of festivals over recent times – that bit more special for being, not rationed as I’d guess there would be much more if time and finances allow, but that bit more special for their scarcity nonetheless.

That early offering, arriving in 2006 just as Alan Davey was making his second and final departure from Hawkwind and instead popping up here, and on his own Human On The Outside release, really did point to a pretty exciting new vision of 21st Century space-rock made by musicians inspired by Hawkwind but not in thrall to them; taking where they’d flown as a starting point and acknowledging their purpose and value but wanting to do something more, something fresh and of the moment. That’s where I heard Medication Time as being and why I found it exciting. Looking back, it’s a record that I play less now and when I do revisit it I pick out the moments rather than allowing it full steam ahead - ‘Inner Doors’ was the highest point and it’s still a fantastic piece of work. But it’s still an opening salvo to relish – it’s just that it got overtaken by the band’s second LP, The Truth About Us, just as a good starting point should give way to a more polished and definitive view of where that creativeness was leading.

The Truth About Us was spot-on, a massive step forward and a really thrilling extension of what Faulkner had started on with Medication Time – not off on a difficult second album tangent but very much a chance to hit the heights by developing what he already had. The cover of ‘The Demented Man’ is a particular moment to cherish – just like Dave Brock’s own revisiting of this long lost classic was at Hawkeaster by all accounts – but The Truth About Us burns brightly right across its silver disc.

Pre-Med’s latest album, Einstein’s Day Off, is light years better again.

If The Truth About Us was spot-on, then Einstein’s Day Off absolutely hammers a nail through it – dead centre, true and sharp. If Medication Time was about updating space-rock to the 21st Century then Einstein’s Day Off is the total crystallisation of that idea. It’s got plenty of nods to the past, plenty of references to Hawkwind in particular – and again as I’ve noted before about Pre-Med, they inhabit the ground where Hawkwind and Killing Joke collide. Not just because Faulkner’s vocals – and I have said this previously – are reminiscent of Jaz Coleman’s when Coleman really wants to sing and not growl (so the Coleman of Night Time or of Brighter Than A Thousand Suns) but because a conflagration of Hawkwind and Killing Joke makes complete sense, when you think about it. ‘War Dance’ might be the anti-thesis of the peace-and-love Hawkwind ethos but a collision of their styles is a no-brainer.

Let’s talk about a band then that takes those sort of musical touchstones and fashions something of their own from them. This time out Pre-Med are Faulkner, Davey, Phil Oates on guitar, sometime previous collaborator and Xenon Codex / Chronicle Of The Black Sword era Hawk drummer Dan Thompson, and Steve Leigh providing keyboards and synthesisers. They could be the same today, they could be a completely different line-up; it seems shifting and undefined.

I don’t know that it’s an album that reveals in scientific decay and destruction or if its a record that has both a delight in and a sharp mistrust of science and scientific advancement. Certainly on the title track there’s a despairing reflection with its narrator’s despondency : “all the hopes I had to help mankind / perverted science blew away / the magic formula that I designed / only brings death it’s such a shame.” In the end, though, lyrically its a record that declaims a hard science fiction outlook: “Pollinating technologically / Tomorrow’s embryos alive”, “build ourselves another universe / Man made machine deceiving time.” There’s more – it mixes technological certainties and uncertainties – hits environmental messages and wide-vista panoramas in its grand designs.

Musically it does reflect on Hawkwind in places: ‘Cern’ has something of ‘Time We Left This World Today’ in its chops and perhaps more noticeably, ‘Biosphere’ takes the weightless floating listlessness of ‘Chronoglide Skyway’ and blows lyrical melancholic descriptiveness into it as well – it captures and describes a loneliness and hopelessness coupled with a fated acceptance of a solitary drift out into the ether that is quite, quite beautiful. On the other hand, ‘Einstein’s Day Off’ is an all-out rocker that explodes out of one of those synthesiser washes – wordy and expansive and driving and acutely contemporary. It’s all about Thompson’s drumming – so much more developed than when perhaps he was pushed into the limelight with Hawkwind a little too early – Davey’s roving bass lines and the moralistic tones set by Faulkner’s strident vocals… and a stunning guitar break from Phil Oates that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Hawkwind album at Huw Lloyd Langton’s peak.

So those are a couple of real peaks but in truth this is a hugely consistent record – one that I’d suggest will continue to be a ‘play right through’ LP in the years to come and not a dabble with highlights (even though I was so astonished by the consecutive exceptional exceptions of ‘Einstein’s Day Off’ and ‘Biosphere’ that I had these two tracks on repeat as I was getting to grips with the entire record). But ‘Cern’ is a wall-of-sound powerhouse, ‘The Stargazer’s Apprentice’ (with a reminiscent riff of ‘Sword of the East’ just for moment or two) is possibly the track where my Hawkwind / Killing Joke infusion really explains what I mean in dynamic fashion and is another highpoint… and there’s more.

Looking back, if we’ve only received three Pre-Med albums since they first fired off those opening salvos at us, and that’s one just over every three years, then what Faulkner has really had is room to breathe and develop his particular vision, to hone it into a particular and specific style. In a way, I hate that I’ve written a review that consistently comes back to comparing with what has gone before and the bands that may – or indeed may not – have from their output helped define and fashion what he’s wanted to achieve. But he’s hit some pinnacles in what is going on in space-rock at the moment and he’s taken the time to develop what he wants to commit to record and that surely is what has allowed him to release three distinctive records that each have built on the previous ones and improved in quality and value each time.

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