Some of you may remember SNEScore, a collaboration between New Motive Power and the Flying Batteries which was very well-received here at Netlabelism. I absolutely loved the raw power that was in each and every track of that split EP. Naturally, I was barely able to contain my excitement when I learned that The Flying Batteries released their full length debut album last week.
‘Life in Monochrome’ was published by The Hai, a netlabel with a healthy dose of not-taking-itself-too-seriously (Unnecessary Monthly Remixes anyone?). This is how they describe the band:
“The Flying Batteries are a Scottish Snescore band formed in 2009 by Craig Christison and Rikki Mackenzie. Together they have released several EPs and albums utilising the sounds and tones of ’90s era video games, combined with often dance orientated beats and atmospheric guitars.”
So their “debut album” is actually a clever collection of some of their best work to date with new songs added. Upon hitting play, one immediately notices the lo-fi approach to recording. Attentive readers will recognize this as a euphemism for shoddy production value, but I believe this is a conscious choice by the band. They recorded and mixed the entire album by themselves. The mixing further enhanced a sound that is very reminiscent of 1980s New Wave. That includes both the epic synth and guitar parts and the mostly less-than-epic vocal parts. To be perfectly blunt: the vocals are simply off-key a lot of the time. Fans of New Wave will have started mumbling something about me missing the point entirely, but allow me to enlighten people who weren’t force fed New Wave by their ageing fathers while growing up: there’s more to music than vocals being on-key. What, you might ask? Well, look for the first track on ‘Life in Monochrome’ for the answer to that.
The album opens with ‘Passion’, followed by ‘Marionette’, two of my favourite tracks form earlier Flying Batteries EPs. These tracks are absolute roller coasters of rhythm, not allowing the listener to sit around quietly. Heads will nod. Heads might even bang. There is such immense energy in these tracks that one really does not care about there being very little polish. Forget polish altogether. Listening to these tracks is very close to feeling like being at a live show, a setting at which I can only assume The Flying Batteries to shine very bright indeed.
Then, I am sad to report, the album takes a temporary nosedive with the first ‘Kingdom of Cards’ and ‘Hallucinate’. What energy had been built up quickly evaporates. Fortunately only ‘Key without a Lock’ steals some of the vibe after this. ‘Someone like you’ is a beast of a song that makes me feel like the first time I heard ‘Theme for Great Cities’ by The Simple Minds. It is an absolute explosion of synth and guitars that seems to stretch out for miles. The second ‘Kingdom of Cards’ continues on this grand trip down memory lane, while ‘Little Spark’ returns to the hyper-aggression of the SNEScore EP with New Motive Power. The instrumental closing tracks have an almost 65daysofstatic-esque feel to them.
Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson always goes on about a true motorhead loving Alfa-Romeo’s. They’re not particularly well-built but you just have to love them. ‘Life in Monochrome’ is very much like that. There’s quite a few things that try to drag it down: production, pace-building (and interrupting), vocals. Yet this release not only stands tall despite its flaws, it races ahead at 200 mph. I can’t help but love it. I will be playing this record for a long, long time to come.
Flying Batteries – Someone Like You
This review was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.