You need sizeable nuts to call your outfit Beyond The Wizards Sleeve. The imagery alone… Gandalf, Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse and those sodding walking buckets of water. Merlin. Catweazle. “We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz…” Best not Google “wizard’s sleeve”, by the way. Do not do that. Then there’s actual wizardy music… Rick Wakeman in that bloody cape? ‘Pinball Wizard’? Roy Wood (yes, yes, two zeds)? Wizard rock (wrock) is an actual thing too. Best not look that up either.
Originally a moniker for an anonymous side project (their cover was blown pretty swiftly), it seems they chose their name just because it sounded very British and a bit ‘Carry On’ film daft. Move along, no wizarding here. Unless you count the pair who’ve conjured up this offering.
Erol Alkan was behind Trash, London’s hugely influential 90s indie night, and pioneered the early 2000s mash-up craze. His Kylie/New Order hybrid was performed at the Brits by Ms Minogue herself. He’s a renowned remixer (Daft Punk, Chemicals, Justice, Hot Chip), an in-demand producer (Klaxons, Late Of The Pier, Mystery Jets), and Phantasy Sound is his label. Done well for himself, all told.
Alkan’s foil is esoteric connoisseur Mr Richard Norris. Fresh out of college in the late 80s, he scored a job at the St Albans-based Bam-Caruso label, where psych rock, 60s garage and all manner of weird musical shizz were de rigueur. While interviewing Genesis P-Orridge for the label’s in-house magazine, Norris got tangled up in 1987’s infamous ‘Jack The Tab’ album, met Dave Ball, formed The Grid, and the rest you know. Done well for himself, all told.
Meeting through their clubbing adventures a decade or so ago, Alkan and Norris first came under the Beyond The Wizards Sleeve umbrella by carving out a niche as a DJing duo specialising in unheard underground tuneage galore. They released a few 12-inches of psych rock cut-ups that are as rare as cold chips these days (fortunately collected on 2008’s ‘Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Ark 1’ LP), not to mention landing a pile of remix jobs (see 2009’s ‘Re-Animations Volume 1’ set). The logical next step? A debut album. Oh look. Handy that.
‘The Soft Bounce’ opens with ‘Delicious Light’. A slooooow builder, it aaaah-aaahs and ooooh-ooohs along nicely (the velvet pipes of Ms Hannah Peel no less), before the gentle throb of a bassline appears out of the mist, a motorik beat kicks in, and off we go. ‘Iron Age’, featuring Mystery Jets singer Blaine Harrison, is a bit Bentley Rhythm Ace, the ‘Silver Machine’ riffola and electronic gurgles and blips ripping a new hole in time and space. Then there’s the Gallic pop Stereolab-isms of ‘Creation’, with the excellent Jane Weaver on vocal duties, and the Beatles-ish ‘Door To Tomorrow’, with Gorky’s frontman Euros Childs centre stage…
Four tracks in and it’s all sounding quite familiar. Is it down to the coat-tail tugging influences being so on the money that the whole thing seems like it’s always been here? An album you picked up somewhere along the line, can’t remember where, one you’ve reached for regularly in the years since because, well, it has that feel of a classic…
This notion is helped considerably by the fact that ‘The Soft Bounce’ is a proper record, with an A-side and a B-side, like in the olden days. So while the A-side is mainly uptempo bangers played with a pretty straight pop bat, the B-side is a proper journey, six tracks making up one complete movement across a single side of vinyl. It starts with ‘Black Crow’, a bruised 60s strings-drenched sway-along. It’s followed by the instrumental ‘Tomorrow, Forever’, a seven-minute stunner that breathes in and out while its swollen orchestral sweeps have you holding your breath like the best Max Richter or Hauschka pieces. When ‘Tomorrow, Forever’ rolls gently into the title track, an 80s car crash of Steve Winwood ‘Higher Love’ percussion, The Passions’ ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’ melody, and My Bloody Valentine guitar washes, you almost want to stand up and cheer. Marvellous stuff.
The whole thing really is a treat. Influences are worn on sleeves, but you get the feeling that’s the point. Their people say ‘The Soft Bounce’ “ends somewhere that is different from where you started”. Don’t all journeys? For both Alkan and Norris, it’s their respective musical trips that have brought them here. And now it’s your go. This is an album that puts music back where it belongs and it’s something that needs listening to – you know, sitting down, dropping the needle, and actually listening to.