Flotation Toy Warning

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Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck (2004), 7/10
The Machine That Made Us (2017), 6.5/10

London's Flotation Toy Warning, fronted by vocalist Paul Carter, debuted with the single When The Boat Comes Inside Your House / A Season Underground (2011) and the EPs I Remember Trees (2002), that contains the first versions of Losing Carolina - for Drusky, Even Fantastica and Fire Engine on Fire Pt 2, and The Special Tape (2002), containing Popstar Researching Oblivion, Live From the Lake in the Sky and Best Boy Electric. They are mostly mellow psychedelic variations on the pop ballad. The first album, Bluffer's Guide to the Flight Deck (Pointy, 2004), reprises some of that material. Happy 13 is a David Bowie-esque litany dropped into a fairy land and lulled by keyboardist Vicky West's wave-like patterns, while Losing Carolina - For Drusky transports the album to France of the 1950s with mournful accordion and waltzing tempo (and later an operatic chant over street harmonium and Hawaiian guitar). The instrumental parts are the real treat. Carter's falsetto agonizes through the slow pop ballad Popstar Researching Oblivion but the mood is set by trumpets, xylophone and harp; and his declamation in Fire Engine on Fire Pt 2 pales in comparison with the duet of guitarist Ben Clay's evocative guitar and West's requiem-like organ. The album excels at creating the atmosphere but sometimes indulges too long in what it has created: the nine-minute Donald Pleasance is a tender elegy suspended in a somnolent limbo with funereal trumpet and aching strings... but probably lasts five minutes too many. And sometimes it self-destorys: Fire Engine on Fire Pt 1 (with a melody that echoes the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What you Want) would be a charming lullaby if it didn't include a mocking voiceover (the coda of cheesy baroque music with distorted vocals of a century later is worth more than the song itself). The ending of Even Fantastica is splendid but one has to suffer through four minutes of childish lo-fi effects to get there. The influence of the Flaming Lips is the most obvious, but there are also traces of the "Madchester" sound of the 1990s, just watered down into a sweeter syrup. Vicky West's brass and string arrangements, as well as her keyboard lines, often steal the show.

After a long hiatus, they returned with The Machine That Made Us (2017). The album's arrangements are less dense but the melodies may be even stronger than on the debut. It opens with the simple folk-pop lullaby Controlling The Se and with a musichall aria with horn fanfare, Due To Adverse Weather Conditions All Of My Heroes Have Surrendered. A little later the grandiose A Season Underground shows their debt towards the orchestral pop stereotype of the Brill Building of the 1950s. The longer songs are a mixed bag. The longer they go the harder it is to forget the repetition. The seven-minute singalong I Quite Like It When He Sings lasts way too long and after six minutes the twelve-minute The Moongoose Analogue, that started out with existential overtones, sounds like Christmas supermarket muzak. On the other hand, the anemic litany of the eight-minute Everything That Is Difficult Will Come to an End soars into a martial Bowie-esque narrative in a rather effective manner.

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(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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