Drawing their inspiration from the sound mosaics of Can, Miles Davis and My Bloody Valentine, Laika, alias Margaret Fiedler and Guy Fixsen, first emerged onto the nascent lo-fi electronica scene in the early ’90s, occupying similar territory to such pop experimentalists as Stereolab, Mouse On Mars and Tortoise.
Like those artists, Laika embrace the world of samplers, sequencers and synths but, importantly, endow them with an organic warmth that’s typified in Fiedler’s vocals, best described as Beth Gibbons on helium. Indeed, like Beth’s old band, Portishead, Laika inject a generous portion of the blues into their potent mix.
This new studio album marks something of a new beginning, coming, as it does, after the retrospective Lost In Space collection. It’s a typically sparse, low-key affair, with little ornamentation. The album also has a distinctly urban sound, not unlike Everything But The Girl‘s latter-day excursions into dance. The self-consciously poetic lyrics and warmth of the melody line act as a musical comfort blanket against the ever-present rhythmic chatter and hum of the city outside.
Leaf By Leaf is typical, offsetting an urgent, almost junglist, rhythm track with a languorous melody, while Alphabet Soup starts off as a quasi-Miles work-out but soon evolves into something very different. There’s an uneasiness, however, about tracks like Fish For Nails, Diamonds and Stones and the gorgeous Oh, underlined by the tendency of tracks to suddenly cut off in mid-bar.
In terms of feel, the album is closer to early efforts Sounds Of The Satellites and Silver Apples Of The Moon than the more conventionally rock-orientated Good Looking Blues. Although Fiedler and Fixen have once more teamed up with long-time collaborator drummer Lou Ciccotelli, the songs tend to be fragmented and impressionistic, with Ciccotelli’s contributions kept fairly low in the mix. This is certainly not a rock album, but neither is it pop, at least as conventionally understood. Rather it occupies a grey hinterland that’s part electronica, part pop, part something rather wonderful.
Although there’s an underlying edginess to proceedings, the album has a glacial beauty that’s very seductive. If there’s a downside it’s the lack of sonic variety. The pattern, on most of the tracks, of an opening drum and bass riff giving way to a wistful vocal and dreamy samples, soon veers towards the formulaic. That said, this is going to be a staple of chill-out rooms for many a month, and rightly so.