Utility Music is Gyratory System’s third album (out today!), and I feel a bit silly for having not known them until now. It’s a combination of all sorts of things I like — electronica with live instruments in the mix, krautrock influences, and, well, the first track is named “John Frum” after the patron saint of cargo cults! In fact, if you’re a fan of Krautrock in general, I’d highly recommend this album. It’s not a mere pastiche, but rather an extension of the genre.
The sounds of the synthesizers are more modern than those on the Krautrock greats — but not as cold and sterile as some digital synthesizers can sound. Often I find that digital synths, particularly when they started out, seemed to be more about aping sounds — either using mangled samples that sounded plastic, or getting dialed in attempts at analog synth blurps, but without the body of the real thing. Of course, digital synths have come a long way, and now you get the best of both the digital realm (reliability, the ability to capture settings once you get them right) and analog (customizability, warmth), and it’s a record like Utility Music that ends up being a pretty good illustration of that.
It’s not just the synths that make this record so great, though, but the live instruments I mentioned, providing all sorts of texture. I tend to classify this music as instrumental, though vocals do often come through (via the talented Katharine Blake, who also provides violin and recorder) — but they’re more about making vocalizations rather than words — words which would be superfluous to the sound of the tracks. Her violin on tracks like “AAA” deftly weaves between the vocals, drums and synthesizers.
Oddly enough, I get a little bit of a Renaldo & The Loaf vibe too with some of the percussion and samples on this album — again with “AAA”, we have water flowing through the song, and the occasional pots-and-pans style drum machine sounds as well. We’re talking more The Elbow is Taboo here — and since that’s my favorite Renaldo & The Loaf album, that’s definitely a compliment! The horns (and the vacuum!) on “The Spectrum” also have a bit of that feel, though maybe a little bit more Songs for Swinging Larvae. Again, though, this isn’t to say that it’s derivative — just a possible influence… though given that one of the songs is “Mr Portsmouth”, that idea might not be so far-fetched, as it’s Renaldo & The Loaf’s stomping grounds. Similarly, “Thorney Island” sounds a little like an alternate-universe version of the Residents’ “Would We Be Alive”, starting with a just-similar-enough-to-make-you-go-”hey-that’s-kinda-like-that-one-song” riff, and folding it in on itself over and over until it becomes something wholly new and amazing.
The single “Old Harmony” is particularly driving, too, building up to a “Ruckzuck”-esque rhythm, and keeping that Kraftwerk song’s sense of fun as well. “Old Harmony” is one of those songs that’s not only fun to listen to, but it sounds like it’d be really fun to play. It’s four-and-a-half minutes long, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are 10 or 20 minute versions in the vaults somewhere.
Ultlity Music is the first new album of 2014 that I’ve listened to, and if it’s any indication, we’re in for a good year of music. I highly recommend checking it out.