With audiobooks, nothing is ever as it seems. Each song presents a puzzle waiting to be solved, its myriad of lyrical allusions drawing you into a vortex of contradictions. Less songs, and more shifting sands, the project’s 2018 debut ‘Now! (in a minute)’ offers supreme synth pop surrealism, re-imagining The Human League’s ‘Dare’ as one of Dali’s melting clocks.
‘Astro Tough’ finds the duo – lauded producer David Wrench and co-conspirator Evangeline Ling – picking up where they left off, pursuing a singular aesthetic amid a near-endless array of lyrical allusion. Responding to the circumstances they find themselves in, as Britain becomes ever more mundane, angry, and fractious audiobooks find fresh ways to bring our inner discomfort to the surface.
Opening with the bubbling tech of ‘The Doll’ and Evangeline Ling’s supreme lyrical subversion, the pair then veer into the synth-driven cacophony of ‘LaLaLa It’s The Good Life’.
A record that refuses to sit in one place, the duo’s thirst for distaste leads to the weird, wonky, and infuriatingly catchy reggae elements on ‘The English Manipulator’. Yet it’s often lyrically where ‘Astro Tough’ truly excels, with production and vocals operating in two almost tangential, bizarrely complimentary universes. Take the word-play on ‘Blue Tits, with playfully explicit lyricism that transcends its vulgarity to become a comment on the way women’s bodies are disseminated by an overtly patriarchal, misogynistic society.
The cavalcade of words wouldn’t have space to operate in were it not for Wrench’s sympathetic production, however. There’s devoutly ironic tinge to the work on audiobooks’ new album that intersects with its innate physicality – the Marc Bolan esque preen to glam rock thumper ‘Driven by Beef’ for example, or the tech-heavy elements that erupt through ‘Black Lipstick’.
Ending with the slomo feast of ‘Farmer’ this isn’t a record to be understood quickly, if at all. It’s more something to be experienced, a mirror to the bizarre world that our Plague Island now seems to inhabit. Abnormal and mystifying, audiobooks amplify bewilderment on a remarkable second album.
Words: Robin Murray
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