I can’t decide whether it makes more or less sense for artists to release double albums as time and technology advance. In one corner you have the naysayers, those who would indict the file sharing community’s supposed short attention span and penchant for choosing individual songs over albums, not to mention the increasingly successful retail mp3 industry. In the other, you have those that will say the digital medium makes it easier and more convenient than ever to release more music at once. And if one can get more for his money, why not let him? Discounting any romantic notions of the perfect album, it’s hard not to agree with the `more is better’ camp, especially if everything is of a particularly high standard.
Manchester’s Working For A Nuclear Free City may not necessarily be out to side with either argument, though their US debut is, in fact, a double album. Businessmen & Ghosts collects material from their self-titled UK debut album, Rocket EP and various bonus tracks on a 29-track, two disc collection that’s technically, technically, a compilation, yet still offers more than 100 minutes of wonderful Madchester, shoegazer, Krautrock and electro-inspired pop with an apparent multiple personality disorder. And every personality is both charming and quite attractive.
As an introduction to the band, Businessmen & Ghosts is a bit immense to take on all at once, and takes a bit of a commitment to fully take all of it in. Seriously, how often does anyone have a spare 105 minutes these days? Keeping the overwhelming nature of the collection in mind, the two discs are easily separated into two different entities, namely “Businessmen” and “Ghosts.” The former is composed mostly of the band’s debut album, all dance-friendly pop tunes with hazy grooves and shaking percussion aplenty, while the latter is mostly instrumental, featuring more abstract, albeit gorgeous and less single-inclined compositions.
Throughout the first half, WFANFC’s primary concern is to get your feet and your ass moving. Ed Hulme’s rumbling, Mani-like bass and John Kay’s heavily shuffling beats drive “Troubled Son” into a swirling but deeply grooving psychedelic freakout, kicking off the festivities with maximum throb for instant pleasure. Single “Rocket” is a bit lighter initially, its acoustic jangle intertwining with majestic piano riffs and nebulous, cloudlike synths. Amidst the ambience, however, there is pulse and there is sway, with more rumbling basslines just below the airy surface. With “Kingdom,” the group plays shoegazer disco beautifully, throwing down giddy, hyperactive beats beneath the waves of distortion and Hulme’s gorgeously obscured vocals. For a genre that’s often accused of being sad and wintry, though, Working For a Nuclear Free City make it joyful and buoyant, which is often the noblest of ends.
Working For a Nuclear Free City aren’t above a folksy pop tune, in spite of their penchant for distortion and maracas, and show their gentler, dare I say `twee’ side, on the wonderful “Sarah Dreams of Summer.” I think I’ve given up on Badly Drawn Boy ever making something like this again, but clearly my fix has been satiated. The swirling strangeness of “All-American Taste” is an absolute revelation, with melodies reminiscent of Failure, rhythms heavy and funky, and Phil Kay’s space-age synthesizer bleats flailing like a mad robot.
The second disc is concerned more with atmosphere than with beats, and as such, is the prettier, and more epic of the two. “Eighty Eight” kicks things off with a dirty and fuzzy start, chugging like a Big Muff filtered Neu! Likewise, “Donkey” is a frantic and spastic dance track with beats, feedback and bass throbs twitching in every direction. As the disc progresses, the immediacy and distortion of the prior tracks drop away in favor of a more fluid sort of ambient dance music, such as “Innocence,” with its David Axelrod meets Chemical Brothers style, or the serene “Heaven Kissing Hill,” which rides upon a bass drum stomp as it soars skyward into its utopian namesake.
However much or little sense a double album makes in today’s pop music economy is somewhat beside the point when it comes to Working For a Nuclear Free City. Pretty much everything on Businessmen & Ghosts is good to spectacular, which is something that few other artists with 29 tracks to spare can boast. Overwhelming, certainly, but given the quality of material, taking it one track at a time will not only make the task seem less intimidating, but, one-by-one, unveils each one’s wonder and depth.
Primal Scream – Vanishing Point
Fujiya & Miyagi – Transparent Things
Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.