A brief summary of Klaxons’s demolition of the British indie scene: “Atlantis to Interzone” and “Gravity’s Rainbow” demos circulated on the net, the songs became staples of student indie nights, and very soon after, debut album Myths of the Near Future won the Mercury Music Prize, a unique accolade given to British artists based solely on creative merit.
The band exuded cultural style, not just a surge in catchy electro indie. Between 2004 and 2007, successful British bands typically cultivated images as ordinary lads discussing ordinary things (Arctic Monkeys, The Wombats, Kaiser Chiefs and The View). The minutiae of awkward social encounters and bus stops were par for the course.
However, Klaxons stopped it with their fascination for fantasy, space, and abstraction. With this band, a new class of artists — Foals, Metronomy, Late of the Pier — flitted between fun energy and highbrow, intellectual philosophising. It wasn’t just the music that put Klaxons on the front cover of NME every week: it was the ambiguous concept of “nu rave” peddled by the music press that, led by Klaxons, kicked “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” into touch and made it look irrelevant, unsophisticated, and grey.
Klaxons never liked the in-vogue connotation that came with the “nu-rave” tag, and just as well because NME’s infatuation with Klaxons subsided after their album tour. Surfing the Void is an apt name for the following three years, due to this album’s protracted creation and the negative publicity associated with recent live shows.
Fallouts with Polydor over new psychedelic songs deemed “too experimental for release” echo Geffen Records, who once tried to sue Neil Young for making music “unrepresentative of Neil Young.” In this environment, Klaxons went through three producers. For all the hype, very few critics have labelled this album a disappointment. Rather, there is a sense of foreboding in the mainly positive reviews. Telegraph writer Andrew Perry called Surfing the Void “a real victory from the jaws of defeat.”
My own take on Surfing the Void is that by ditching the recordings rejected by Polydor, the LP stays true to Myths of the Near Future as far as vibrant choruses and lyrical escapism goes (“clouds of diamond dust,” “riding the timewave’s origin,” etc.)
However, Surfing the Void is less compact than its predecessor: it is unrestrained and distorted. The comparison is similar to the first two Arctic Monkeys records: the debut had clear production and the follow-up was fuzzy and industrial. As it creeps with caution and intrigue, the off-kilter tension and screaming guitars on “Extra Astronomica” could be a track by Bloc Party. “Flashover” is similarly dark, and sounds like the creative outcome of “Atlantis to Interzone” warped into something angry and demonic. The organs on “The Same Space” and unsettling synth melodies on “Valley of the Calm Trees” add to the overall impression that something otherworldly is afoot. That sci-fi concept unites the album and generates a defining atmosphere.
Klaxons typically offer up vague comments to puncture the promotional circus when doing interviews. In one with ITN, Jamie mocks the irritating arrogance of critics and fascination with his band, saying, “It’s an enigma; figure it all out.” Their tongue-in-cheek suggestions and the record’s overblown futurism always point to their philosophising songs being a parody. They like the pomp. “Future Memories” lyrics (“The future’s in our memories/the past is just a guess”) would be at home in the dialogue of a sci-fi b-movie, for instance. A cat inside an astronaut suit: that’s mental.
Overall, I like this album, and I like it because the grandeur of the tracks comes out in a really fun and adventurous way. As I’ve said, I don’t think Klaxons aimed to make a revolutionary concept record; some people just take the mystique they pump into every song too seriously. To me, these 10 songs stick on repeated listens, and as “Echoes” continues its strong stint of radio play, Klaxons enter a new chapter. Hopefully it won’t be as ridiculed or pored over as their last.