When Pacific State was released in 1989, it’s fair to say few people outside of the burgeoning electronic dance music movement could see it sitting overground for more than a year or two. Yet here we are, three decades on, with its currency is stronger than ever. Even the very mention of 808 State can reduce a grown adult to misty-eyed reverence.
The band have remained a going concern since that release, but with a recent heavy emphasis on reissues of their past work. Transmission Suite, self-released, is their first new album in 17 years, and reaffirms their commitment to looking forward. As he explained in a recent interview with musicOMH, lynchpin member Graham Massey sees himself as a music ‘lifer’ – and as such never saw himself straying too far from home.
With the 808 State name back up in lights, he and Andrew Barker revisited their roots for the construction of Transmission Suite, holed up in the disused Granada studio. That and everything else about the album has a strong whiff of the late 1980s, with squelchy analogue sounds, fresh and inventive beats, lively and witty fragments of speech and even the object-based artwork. Yet crucially it feels new, too, the ideas all fresh off the page.
The first six minutes of Transmission Suite are enough to convince us all is well. By that time second track Skylon is chattering away, its skittish beats complemented by longer, arching synth lines that suggest a fusion of Detroit, Chicago and Berlin techno without conforming to either. It succeeds Tokyo Tokyo, which takes a sampled line and runs with it, and precedes Cannonball Waltz, where some enjoyable hythmic weirdness takes place around the spoken ‘I was wrong’ hook, indicating the traits of early 1990s albums such as Ex:El are very much alive and kicking.
There is a strong sense of enjoyment in the nooks and crannies of these tracks. The likes of Westland are full of this, with what seems to be about three tracks at once. In the background a warm techno track goes through its enjoyable motions, while in the foreground quasi-orchestral stabs and electronic whooshes divert the attention, all over an offbeat and off kilter rhythm. The descriptive track Carbonade pans out to a desolate but affecting urban portrait, while the excellent Trinity also has semi-orchestral workings, hurling out chords in all directions above a full bodied kick drum.
It may be long – a track or two over limits perhaps – but Transmission Suite teems with ideas, enthusiasm and a love for the electronic game of music. In fact some of 808’s material feels as though it could have been developed even further, while some of the nuggets burst at the seams with ideas that could power several albums.
Massey and Barker are back with a flourish, the 808 State reputation further enhanced by music that proves they have never really been away. Hopefully they will kick on with more music soon. For if Massey is indeed a ‘lifer’, we may only be half way through their story!