Aah, krautrock. So easy to be impressed by its driving motorik rhythms and highways to the cosmic autobahns of free thinking, with no speed limits and an endless nostalgic waving of bratwurst; but so difficult to replicate without seeming a tad flat tyred.
The wheels haven’t come off the krautrock drone-mobile favoured by Eat Lights Become Lights since their 2011 debut, Autopia. It’s mainly had a tweak of the undercarriage, an oil change here and there and a few go faster/slower stripes added. There are no fluffy dice. It’s not that kind of thing.
Eat Lights main man Neil Rudd has crafted a tightly knitted highway of sound that is neither pastiche or homage, but rather a soulful extension from what could have been a musical cul-de-sac.
From the opening galactic synth tones that introduce the burbling cosmosonica statement of intent that is title track Modular Living, to the closing epic orchestral Habitat ‘67, it’s clear that this isn’t an album stuck in one gear. Or frantically checking itself out in the rear view mirror.
Featuring a mix of traditional instrumentation alongside the retro sounds of analogue and software synths this is no cold rewiring of emotionless circuitry, there is a human hand and heart involved in all that shimmers and pulses here. It’s like a mix of Kraftwerk with guitars, taking a musical drive that encompasses busy flowing motorways and more scenic coast roads.
Modular Living starts sedately but soons builds to a demented crescendo that initially overwhelms and threatens to topple off the cliff edge, with the banks of harmonies and melodies interweaving above the solid motorik percussion to create a psychedelic swirl. But with repeated listening, it proves even more dense and bewildering before shuddering to an abrupt halt.
Thankfully it’s not all ‘foot to the floor’ intensity; there is space to breathe and reflect, as on the more sedate MOD-ULO-510, whose synth bubbles appear on first hearing to offer an audio balm of pulsing beats before some skittering beats and cycling drones bring the track to its heady conclusion. 13th Looking South follows much the same blueprint, but features more fuzzed-up, Indian-scented sounds.
The album changes pace properly with the orchestral epic of Rowley Way Overlook, which features the first hark of human vocals, albeit oblique shimmers of indiscernible words. It is here that the influence of American minimalist composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich or even Arthur Russell can be heard in the looping precision and minute altering of harmony and melody that creates an hypnotic effect. The washes of electronica set against the opaque echo of humanity comes as a relief amidst the album’s deceptive first half. Continuing in this vein, Los Feliz To Griffith’s equally ambient drones and colour washes are similarly muted, all gentle burbles of piano and distant treated choirs.
Life In The Sprawl is the meeting point of the two halves of the album where the languid, ambient peace is melded back, with the insistent motorik beat through some musical mediation that bears a repeating piano loop that wouldn’t have been out of place on a 90’s indie ‘baggy’ track. Electromagnetika ups the tempo and has one last blast of the krautrock horn, in a manner that displays Neil Rudd’s affection for the drone rock of fellow space cadets Spiritualized, before the anthemic Habitat ’67 heralds the end of an epic album, one that is occasionally repetitive but never less than one eye on the future, one eye on the road and the third eye gazing in awe at the heavens.