, October 14th, 2008 17:00
On previous long-players Trainwreck/Raincheck and Unfair/Funfair Simon Bookish constructed surrealist dreamscapes over fractured laptop beats and a live persona that resembled a shellshocked war poet dancing in asylum clothes. On new album Everything/Everything, Bookish moves in startling new directions: the Guildhall-trained composer has, largely, set aside the PowerBook to score the entire album for saxophone ensemble, organ, drums, bass, harp and sundry brass.
The result, out on the ever-excellent Tomlab label, is one of the brightest pop records of the year. Of course, this is pop with qualifications - Everything/Everything is an undeniably clever album that explores a territory between the rhythms of Steve Reich, defiantly English vocals reminiscent of Scott Walker, the the effete exuberance of Roxy Music and an oddly timeless, Baroque sensibility.
As it's title suggests, Everything/Everything is not an album to skimp on grandiosity and pomp. Where Bookish's previous albums dealt in a kind of historical surrealism, Everything/Everything warps the present, existing a world of disquiet - floods, melting ice shelves, incomprehensible technology. 'Portrait Of The Artist As A Fountain' emerges from a one-two bassline to a sumptuous swirl, 'Carbon', (the "young man, you amaze me" chorus is borrowed from Albert Einstein's exclamation upon meeting R. Buckminster Fuller), gets giddy with itself around motifs that recall not only early Roxy Music, but a Medieval caper set in an opulent, futuristic glasshouse. Throughout 'Victorinox', the brass squeaks and parps, sounding like a gaggle of geese woken by the prowling staccato of Bookish's voice: "Senate House pretends to be the ministry" he intones with severity. 'Synchrotron', sung to a sub-atomic particle accelerator, ends with fragments of sound bouncing off and between each other. This comes up against album centrepiece 'A Crack In Larsen C', a disintegrating ice shelf turned into a deeply romantic ballad, all rolling piano and overwrought vocals.
Some have tried to argue that all this talk of "damask Ghanaians" and "muscular carnal snails" on Hackney's Ridley Road, love songs of nuclear physicists, pondering upon the dietary habits of Teutonic canines ('Alsatian Dog'), and glorious odes to breaking ice shelves are a little too clever for their own good, the whole grand edifice a little arch and overblown. Yet this is to miss the point.
In this Britain where combining intelligence and panache is mistakenly derided as pretentiousness, the 'eccentrics' of pop are either historical artifacts or, if allowed to exist at all in a contemporary setting, merely a useful hook for Sunday supplements to build spurious 'scenes' around. That artists like Bookish are ignored in favour of a bleak vista of landfill indie is surely a crying shame. But as Bookish sings on the warm final track 'Colophon' (a term used in publishing to denote the typesetting information found at the back of a book'), "it's not too late to rewrite history / It's not too late to save ourselves".