Unhinged maverick returns with a Dadaist hauntology riff on the Kling Klang sound
Since responding to an ad in long-gone music weekly Sounds and joining indie outfit The Servants back in the late 80s, he’s served his time has Luke Haines. Never a careerist, even when the opportunity arose with 90s Britpop band The Auteurs, his often contrary and confrontational music is his art for its own sake. And it feels safe to assume that he will continue to chase his muse for the rest of his days. And for that, all hail.
‘British Nuclear Bunkers’ is an opportune and prescient meditation on one of Britain’s most disconcerting room-filling elephants. Occasionally echoing the foggy half-remembered analogue nostalgia of Ghost Box acts like Belbury Poly, this long-player will resonate keenly with the 40-somethings who recall being somewhat freaked out by the 80s nuclear threat. Although instead of evoking any audiological ghosts specific to the time, Haines channels early Kraftwerk (‘Radio-Activity’ in particular) to summon the chilling spirit of the period and perhaps to remind us of an era that should not be consigned entirely to history.
The album’s somewhat paranoid and occasionally unsettling tone is set with opener ‘This Is The BBC’, an authentic sounding radio broadcast that coldly advises a nuclear strike is imminent. It’s affecting stuff and forces the listener to consider the potential scenario. Which is a laugh then. Well actually, in a way it is – albeit a grimly black-humoured one. Haines is poking us with his rhythm stick here, laughing through his unkempt ’tache in his guise as electro-Situationist and thought-provocateur. “The bunkers are still there, you idiots!” he seems to be shouting. “Wake up!”.
The title track is all slow-paced forbode and radioactive Korg menace and owes much to early Kling Klang. The drama continues with ‘Camden Borough Control’ and its Geiger counter clicks and harsh synth squalls. But just as you begin to wonder whether this is all going to be too much like hard work, ‘Test Card Forever’ introduces lightness and a certain Radiophonic incidental jauntiness. It’s not all baleful darkness that proceeds, although ‘Cold Field Morning Bliss’ has a plodding metronomic uncertainty, which perhaps aims to remind us to enjoy each new dawn while there’s chance…
‘Bunker Funker’ soundtracks the subterranean Saturday night with a welcome electro-funkiness that bounces along like an old video game. It skronks primitive acid lines and choppy synth handclaps in a nod to Phuture, which is repeated elsewhere with danceable charm.
Standout ‘Pussywillow (Kids Song)’ marks the high point of the album with its titular children’s choir-sung refrain that conjures a circular, ritualistic dance taking place in some brutalist-utilitarian communal square, post-WW3. The theme is echoed in closer ‘New Pagan Sun’: “We are under the ground / We are under the hum” sings Haines in his nasal, wintry tones, hopeful that the new order is taking shape deep underground.