There’s a sense that PVT, with all vowels now forcibly extracted following legal action from another band called Pivot, didn’t quite make the kind of impact Warp might have been expecting. When performing live, they seemed to deliver a generic post-rock that conspicuously lacked the sense of fun offered by Battles or the cerebral adventurousness of Tortoise. Their recorded work has drawn inspiration from electronica as much as rock, and has bravely attempted to find an organic hybrid between pensive introspection and a kinetic physicality. The problem has been that the resulting music has seemed curiously flat, failing to provoke thought or movement.
Church With No Magic suggests that the band’s identity issues may go deeper than simply their enforced name change. It takes the band further away from easy categorisation with the post-rock or math-rock tags. The most transparent development since O Soundtrack My Heart is the appearance of vocals. Richard Pike manages to vary his voice so significantly as to sound like a range of different singers. This is impressive, but the results are mixed. Sometimes he’s oddly muted, somehow both brooding and resigned, slightly resembling Matt Johnson from The The but without the melodic gifts and dry wit. Yet on the album’s best moments, he is bright and engaged, lifting the music away from the sometimes pompous and self important material that undermines this album.
There’s a section in the middle of Church With No Magic that works superbly. It’s no surprise that this is the section that makes the most of Richard Pike’s voice and from Laurence Pike’s intense drumming. There’s little texture in the arrangement of The Quick Mile but it still sounds imposing and dramatic, demonstrating how much PVT can build from a modest number of ingredients. Even better is Window, with its cut-up vocal parts and clattering percussion. Circle Of Friends occupies similar territory but with slightly more directness. With Richard Pike’s voice explicitly foregrounded, it’s probably the closest PVT will get to a conventional pop song. It’s at moments such as these when a flavour of humanity and a spirit of interaction intrudes into PVT’s otherwise harsh, mechanical sound world.
Elsewhere, however, there are moments that sound frustratingly dated, in spite of what may well be experimental intentions. Timeless begins sounding like a piece of skeletal modern electronica but ends up sounding more like early Eurythmics. The title track sounds oddly like Sisters Of Mercy with added synths. There’s a sense of artifice throughout much of Church With No Magic – a feeling that the band are self-consciously manufacturing menace rather than reaching it intuitively. Light Up Bright Fires has urgency but no real emotion, whilst The Crimson Swan sounds deeply serious and unforgiving.
There’s an exciting and engaging mini-album here but, across the album as a whole, PVT seem to be straining for a gravitas that their music does not entirely justify. When aiming for a powerful, unrelenting sound, the results seem forced and perhaps even a little petulant. Nevertheless, this is a group that can make exciting music when they relax and identify their qualities. The best tracks here have a nervous twitch but also an infectious energy. PVT still have tremendous unrealised potential – but they need to become more consistent and find a stronger focus. It’s rare that today’s music industry affords bands this much time to find their feet, but it may well be the next album that really demonstrates what PVT can achieve.