A rather well-written review by The Organ that really sums up how I feel about, not only, this album but Van Der Graaf Generator as a band themselves. Very much looking forward to seeing them live again this coming Friday and I may even reserve some time to say a few words of my own about said performance!
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – A Grounding In Numbers (Esoteric)
Hold her steady as she goes… they lull you in with that sedate opening track Your Time Starts Now, opens without a question, opens right into the comfortable sense of something that has you wondering if they’ve finally lost it? And then, whoosh, second track Mathematics, and take that equation and try and add it all up, you want math rock? Move over chin-strokers with your junior school add ups, this is math rock, the whole pi in one go.
Of course, Your Time Starts Now makes such perfect sense as an opening track once the whole album has been played – just the right start of times, all that information, all the warp and weft, all the answers, even vague, foresight seeing us safe, why would we even think of doubting? Van Der Graaf Generator clearly aren’t ready to churn out just another album quite yet, they’re not going to put any old thing forward to public forum, they are still in anticipation – doesn’t really take too long to work out that this, their latest hand, has been played out rather well A Grounding In Numbers more than satisfies these Van Der Graaf loving ears; do they really have any right to be making albums this good after all this time? Four decades of challenging album after challenging album, of never making just another one. The beat at our temples, pulse in a rush with that Highly Strung riff that really does us catch off guard with bent out of shape tension – did they really just play that? Was that really Van Der Graff?
This is fresh faced best of intentions, keeping the wood from the trees; here comes the paraphernalia, here comes the eager awareness and the casual refrains that never quite go where you’d expect them, Van Der Graff throwing music curveballs alongside the lyrical harpoons. Bunsho is the first time they really get onto classic Van Der GraafPlague Of Lighthouse keepers ground, that weaving bassline signature of theirs, that dramatic pause. Teacher knows best, but this is Van Der Graaf Generator putting teacher to the test, this is a band still wanting to be at the top of their game and pretty much succeeding when they really have no right to be anywhere near this good – surely all bands lose it in the end? Sure they make their mistakes, this isn’t a perfect album, but that is part of the Van Der Graaf Generator appeal, the fact that they are human, that they do doubt themselves, that they still push themselves, they still want to walk that tightrope and risk falling off, a Van Der Graaf album that didn’t have a flaw wouldn’t be a Van Der Graff album. Hold her steady as she goes, the wire’s been cut, the acrobat well hung, there’s only one answer the disciples will allow.
If they really were wondering if there was life after the recent departure of David Jackson, then surely this time around the answer is a resounding yes. 2008’s Trisector was good, it was a band trying to move forward and find themselves after the reunion performances and the Present comeback album that we never thought we’d witness: grown men and women who should know better, flying half way around the world, in tears of anticipation and joyous states of disbelief on the South Bank by the Thames not daring to think it would actually happen until Hammill, Evans, Banton, and Jackson were actually on that stage in front of them. This time around the reunion is firmly behind them, Jackson has gone, Trisector has happened and this is where they three of them really are starting out afresh. This is the first result of their year zero statement of intent, straight into a studio, record it, mix it, write some of it, everything there, done in a week, nothing much lasting over five minutes yet every element you want in there (without it ever feeling clustered or crowded). They sound like an eager bunch of new band twenty-somethings with all inner tensions alive, they don’t sound like men of pensionable age, making this is a fresh challenge.
Mr Sands is classic Hammill otherself, once more doubting the person about to take the stage and questioning the endurance of the audience… who is Mr Sands? Does Ricky Nadir know? With best intentions he’s strayed off the beaten path once more. Chasing imperfections in the information flow, counting out the foot fall of processional identity. The primacy of digits ticking all boxes, the observer the observed once more… Fresh eccentricity, on closer observation, nothing is all that it seems to be… eventually. They haven’t scattered themselves all over the place, it all makes flowing sense, a whole body, a coherent collection, oblique synchronicity, no driving to distraction by witless repartee.
Now if you really were to force me to commit to naming the finest band ever then I have it narrowed down to just two now and Van Der Graaf are one of those, and if you were to ask me if this latest album satisfies, if it surprises, if this is up to standard, then yes on every count. Open faced, no loss of identity, every time they do something new I think, no I have no right to expect them to pull it off again, they’re allowed to dip after all this time, to not challenge themselves, that surely don’t have to take these kinds of risks now, do they? That they don’t need to challenge us, earned the right to not have to go through all this every time? Us waiting in the auditorium, waiting for that test of endurance… no test here.
Van Der Graaf have done it again, and no it isn’t without fault, it wouldn’t be Van Der Graaf Generator’s way to get everything right, that’s why they’re so vitally good. Soon as you like, ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats, no need for insurance, no need for dramatic pause, one final thing… no final thing, no alarm bells need to ring, all slowly revealed, steady as she goes. They did it again, here it is for all we know, a grounding in numbers. Why are we so surprised?
A Grounding in Numbers is released this Monday, March 14th (Pi Day! 3/14/11 – coincidence?)