Australia is a land that is, more often than not, accustomed to producing uncompromising slabs of fried rock as opposed to the cool, experimental electronica that saw PVT – pronounced “pivot”, vowels dropped following the threat of a lawsuit from an identically monikered US group – become the first band from their country to sign to Warp. Domestic success failed to translate overseas however, with fellow countrymen Cut Copy probably bolstering the international reputation for Aussie dance a little too late. Now rehomed at Felte, Homosapien is PVT’s fourth outing, and they’ve rallied to make their most accomplished record to date.
In keeping with their homeland’s climate, PVT have managed to harness an unusual warmth for what is primarily an electronic record whilst also pulling off the laudable trick of maintaining the drive and verve associated with such an experimental genre. Yet at first it’s somewhat coy in revealing itself. Shiver unfolds shyly, founded on a dreamy synth loop paired with a treated vocal that enigmatically and suggestively blooms around the rifle crack of a snare. It’s an elusive and wounded piece of burbling low-fi electronica, its charm like a rain flecked window, hypnotic in its suggested melancholy. Snatches of lyrics are glimpsed before they disappear, like the band are finding their own feet, slowly gathering themselves before starting out.
It’s understandable, as Homosapien – the clue to its preoccupations in its title – is a brave step for an electronic band to take. It marks an earnest attempt to connect on a human level, overcoming previous reluctance to look beyond their more improvisational, introspective past and commit to more traditional song structures. That Richard Pike’s vocals are brought increasingly into the limelight as the album progresses proves (sorry) pivotal, helping the band forge a sense of identity as well as underscoring the album’s many and varied successes within the genre. Electric has a thousand yard stare of a vocal dead at its centre framed by a brooding synth colliding with portentous post-punk guitar, the sort of gutter that Matthew Dear also loves to mine for material. Love and Defeat is even reminiscent of ’80s synth pop – a song about the damage caused by infatuation, insistent choruses are just the right side of the dramatic, rising amid squeals of electronics that Depeche Mode would be proud of.
Crucially along with the vocals, emotions also clarify lyrically as the record unfolds to give it real punch. After the band’s new empathy is realised with the declaration of “you’re the same as me, homosapien” in the title track, they are totally unfettered. Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine Vertigo possibly being any more direct – a tale of love at first sight framed by a meeting overlooking a cityscape, it prompts the declaration that “it feels like vertigo whenever we’re together.” It’s the sort of bare, immediate admission and disclosure more closely associated with modern R&B, rendered slanted and aching with its wheeling falsetto set against Aphex Twin washes of noise, a sort of instant permanence to what is a fleeting moment.
Homosapien’s cover art is a painting by the American artist Winston Chmielinski showing a human figure in vivid, sweeping impressionistic terms. It’s arresting, at once familiar and alien – body parts identifiable, but shifted and blurred, making implicit sense whilst also confusing interpretation. It’s the perfect image for the record, one that somehow wrings warmth and rawness from artificial beginnings, the rare human touch applied to the genre causing the synthetic textures be felt even more keenly. When it coalesces, one comes to reinforce the other, making songs compellingly elliptical yet reassuringly warm. Homosapien at its best creates a refreshing sense of vitality in a genre often defined by its synthetic nature. If this is their rebirth, an exciting life awaits.