The Legendary Pink Dots
Angel In The Detail
There are plenty of cliches about long-established bands being akin to a well-worn pair of gloves or boots as they age. Comfortable, familiar, they’ve aged in harmony with those who enjoy them. It isn’t just their age which separates The Legendary Pink Dots from such analogies, though they have recently passed the 40 year mark. Instead, I find LPD at this stage to be akin to an impossibly heavy wooden trunk in an attic. No one who lives in the house remembers when or how it got there, it smells of bizarre spices and perfumes which are no longer manufactured, and every time its creaking lid is opened some new but always inexplicable object is found nestled within.
Angel In The Detail is the first proper LP by the Dots since 2016’s Pages Of Aquarius, a veritable eon of a wait by the band’s impossibly voluminous standards (though it’s of course afforded them the opportunity to release something in the area of a dozen live, archival, and jam session records). The result is a lengthy and considered work which feels in keeping with the last decade or so of the band’s history, but somewhat dials back the saturnine and morose mood of the last few records, and even calls back to their quirkiest beginnings.
The instrumental scope of Angel is relatively pared down, with few tracks going into full-bore space-psych excess, but each track has its own distinct (if often minimalist) voice. From the pure dub of “Mantis” to the pensive doom of “My Land / Parallels” to the glitchy funk of “Junkyard”, each tune feels like the product of its own spot within the broader LPD cosmos. Perhaps worthy of mention is just how much of the record is given over to rhythm and guitar, with guitarist Erik Drost (who, with a mere fifteen years of tenure remains the rookie of the roster) often carrying harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic duties all at once, as on the death folk of “The Photographer”. Some sections are given over to The Silverman’s synths to carry things into classic kosmische (“Itchycoo Shark”, the closing passages of final track “Red Flag”), but those are relatively rare.
Lyrically, Edward Ka-Spel is on his best, or at least most lucid, behavior on Angel. He tackles technology and contemporary political strife head-on, and his perpetual examining of the mysteries of love and the slippery nature of reality is on point, with nary a line sacrificed to psychedelic ambiguity. The conceit of “Double Double” – getting your more charismatic doppelganger to do all the schmoozing and glad-handing the antisocial narrator would rather avoid – is classic Ka-Spel. So are the extended nautical metaphors which guide “Isle of Sighs”. The ‘instruction manual for your robotic wife’ spiel of “Maid To Measure” feels a tad jejune in its critique of the commodification of love, but also serves as a flashback to the earliest and often most screwball of Ka-Spel’s work.
As mentioned above, both musically and lyrically Angel In The Detail offers some relief from the pervasive melancholy of recent Dots work, and the record’s notes seem to confirm that – “Even when there seems to be no hope left. Even when you surf the channels and see only monsters…Even now my friends, there is an Angel In The Detail”. As something of an inversion of the band’s long-standing motto, “Sing while you may”, it’s buoying to be handed some hope from a band who’ve been preparing for the apocalypse for a full four decades.