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Church With No Magic Iain Moffat , August 30th, 2010 06:18

The history of music being made by The Artists Formerly Known As Anything At All, Frankly is checkered to say the least. Even aside from the most obvious example, it's probably no accident that we've yet to see a significant critical appraisal of Rain Tree Crow, while it took Soft Parade until album number three to rediscover their pre-Electric crackle, and, of course, the less said about The Verve the better. What hope, then, for the band who've had to fight off the pointing litigous fingers of America's hardly-a-household-name Pivot, especially given that they themselves would have to admit that there were always several significantly twinklier stars in the Warp firmament?

Obviously, a great leap forward would help no end, and it's fairly clear from very early on in the proceedings here that there's been something of a rethink. While previous Pivot performances had a tendency towards seriousness bordering on the stentorian, this is a far more inviting proposition all round. Of course, Richard Pike's vocals are always going to ensure that the atmosphere's never wholly free from ominousness – he does, after all, often continue to appear wrapped in a cartoon cloud of mid-to-late-80s doomy devilment – but this is an unusually, appealingly roundedly, characterful affair, tripping lightly over an unexpected range of touchstones. There are a number of occasions, for instance, where he's channelling Violator-age Gahan (an oddly ill-mined but amenably well-judged seam), and his deployment of sudden distracted falsetto takes him into territory currently occupied to stellar effect by Active Child. Even the point at which he brings to mind nothing so much as Nik Kershaw's so-much-stuff-to-say protestations has a certain charm.

It probably helps that such dabbling in the absurd is in fact far from a singular judgmental lurch. From this album's very title down, there's a sense that while they've thankfully avoided the temptation to plunge into a quagmire of inadvisable irony, PVT have come to agree with that wise chestnut about ridicule being nothing to be scared of and leapt recklessly for the drama buttons as a result. 'Light Up Bright Fires' is a terrific example of this, with Laurence sounding as if his drums have been placed into a shopping trolley while the keyboards get steadily more embarrassed about their electro hiccups. 'Timeless', too, thrives on a squelchy chassis of skating-round-the-floor-on-cushions belches over which Richard draws ever closer in some sort of heroic cave escape. And then there's 'Window', which betrays a surprise pop instinct of sorts via its ZTT masked ball synthetic strings and then goes and betrays that with an unwarned breakdown akin to the point at which the beats in Moby's 'Thousand' finally blur into inaudibilty that leads directly to a Cowell-terrifying key change.

And even when they're not playing peculiar games with what ought to have been straightforward songs, PVT still refuse to let their newfound sense of mischief and wonder desert them. That's the promise evident in opener 'Community'. Although it is to all intents and purposes instrumental, it manages to bid a cheery welcome via billowing and burbling techno, passing Gregorian insistence and a general notion that it's actually but the unveiling of the fireworks, It's compellingly built upon in 'Waves & Radiation', which is as close as they get to homaging any of their labelmates, drawing as it does on the wonkily accessed hauntological juvenilia of Boards Of Canada at their finest and the unphased, askew beauty of some of Aphex's ambient excursions.

Alright, so perhaps PVT could have leaned even more heavily on the clanging-over-cleverness motif of their finest moments here, and, a little frustratingly, there's still the feeling that they're edging their way towards an identity rather than being an entirely cohesive presence just yet. Nonetheless, Church With No Magic has opened up the perception of enigma and the possibility of endurance for them, and that, in itself, is quite the turn of events.