Does music need a purpose? Eat Lights Become Lights’ second full length, Heavy Electrics, begs the question. A sequel to 2011’s critically acclaimed Autopia, the album continues composer Neil Rudd’s love for all things krautrock: working solo, his style is of roaming synth and electric riffs driving motorik through expansive, Neu!-inspired vistas: kosmische landscapes of countless dark industries; analogue; dystopian.
And so it doesn’t want for scale. And more: ideas are plentiful. It is littered with a ready rush of hooks, fills and motifs. Rudd builds scenes at pace with well-placed synth loops: a ready drama quickly pictured in the layers of hand-built sounds. And of course, it has pace – such inspirations as these, with the steady insistence of the Germanic, that beat of the Autobahn, ensure an unstinting energy through the whole album.
And yet, Heavy Electrics seems so pointless. The majority of the seven tracks are overlong, over-repetitive, and over-indulgent. The skill of Rudd’s layered sound is both craftsmanship and curse: delivering depth at the expense of variety and providing ready excuse for the overuse of simplistic rhythms, and prosaic fills. And the album seems like a grand plan conceived with little vision – striving to be more, but unable to escape the bounds of its meagre foundations. Perhaps the artistic goal for ELBL’s second tell us why – Rudd claims it to be ‘a soundtrack for an imaginary film’ and, while his love of the cinematic is clear inspiration – the grim Blade Runner aesthetic of Terminus IV, and Syd Mead Cityscape, is expertly captured – the purpose he’s given his music is also its limitation. This is backing track. A scene setter. And nothing more.
In fact, Heavy Electrics is often less. Opener Bond For Magic Mountain is a loose collection of beeps and wails – seeking to stir with insistence what it fails to evoke through imagination. Title track, Heavy Electrics, is pure Autopia – the bass rumble of the highway, the electric riff of scenery flying by, is straight out of earlier effort Test Drive and no improvement on it. There’s a useful change of pace in Sunrise at Marwar Junction, allowing ELBL to explore a greater ambience – but it’s more Tubular Bells than Can, and unsurprisingly insipid. It’s only on the motorik anthem of La Kraut III, and the darker twists of Runners, that Eat Lights Become Lights find any form – the latter a pulsating, vicious track that will suit their visceral live shows and one that gives a welcome lift to close the album.
Those high points are too far apart – and for the looping, endless trails that lie between, you’re left wondering why you’re bothering to make the journey. If Heavy Electrics has a purpose, Neil Rudd has failed to realise it.