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Album Of The Week

Bigger Than Jesus: The God Phone By Lunch Money Life
Cal Cashin , June 8th, 2023 07:34

Restlessly inventive, playful and absurdist, the London quintet’s expansive latest is the imaginary soundtrack to a biblical sci-fi epic you never knew you needed in your life, finds Cal Cashin

Photo credit: Joe Hart

It’s commonly accepted as gospel that a goldfish will grow to a certain size relative to its tank. How true this is, I don’t know, but it’s an evocative piece of imagery.

It’s not too much of a reach to say that this happens with music, too. The sound of an acoustic artist, practising and composing in their bedroom or living room will so often take on the intimacy of the space. It’s difficult to imagine Pink Moon, or Rogér Fakhr’s Fine Anyway, ever existing in a space bigger than a static caravan. And indeed, the sci-fi lounge music co-opted by Arctic Monkeys for their last pair of albums seems a pretty jarring fit for a rock group that regularly fills stadiums.

On the other end of that analogy sit the genre-defying East London collective Lunch Money Life. Their music is that of a vast space, all intergalactic synths, stadium drum stomps, and clattering sound effects, with the occasional choir coaxed in for good measure. This is humungous music, a real sonic colossus. This vastness of sound is probably more than a little to do with design, but it’s undeniable that Lunch Money Life’s music channels the environment in which it was conceived.

Rewind a handful of years, way before 2020’s juddering debut Immersion Chamber, and musical polymath Spencer Martin is trying to find a space for his fledgling musical endeavour to practise. After all, in the city of London, rehearsal space is at an absolute premium, both oversubscribed and overpriced. Cunning Martin struck a deal with a local church – specifically that he’d be granted access to the nave as a rehearsal space if he were to play the organ at services – and duly all parties were happy with the arrangement. And it is that church, dear reader, Trinity Centre, Dalston, which appears in the background on the album cover of the group’s blistering new album The God Phone.

The conceit of the album is thus, this is the lost soundtrack to the never-made theological thriller, The God Phone. Loosely, the absurdist plot sees scientists prove the existence of God, scramble for a way to make contact, before eventually The God Phone is deployed and mankind makes contact with beyond – only to find that after all, the world has been run not by God, but by Satan.

It’s a fun concept, but Lunch Money Life don’t really sound like they’re soundtracking any goddamn film I’ve ever seen. For better or for worse, this album is best enjoyed without forcing the conceit too much. A great album this is, but a soundtrack it ain’t. However, the religious imagery chimes nicely with the band’s church-hall origins, and whilst the band are on record as agnostic, these theological references can no doubt be put down to the environment where the music is composed.

Divorced from the faux film score bit, The God Phone is a truly novel musical endeavour in and of itself. The jilted quintet have really outdone themselves here. This album is a ludicrous concoction; bold, enigmatic and a bit ridiculous. Always infamous for their sweltering live shows, Lunch Money Life intrigue and overjoy for the course of a whole record on The God Phone.

It’s a coming together of monstrous rock riffs, boundless vaporwave synths, and driving low-end basslines. Touches of jazz fusion, inflections of drill and grime in the loud sampler palate, and kisses of velvet autotune vocals are brought to life in a space that makes them sound truly infinite. The band have friends in the bustling London Jazz Scene, and whilst they share a musical adventurousness with their contemporaries, there is little in their sound to join them to any existing scene or genre.

Opener ‘Year One’ sounds very much a modern take on the Beach Boys ‘Our Prayer’, the eternal a capella Smile opener. However, in the The God Phone’s case, the Boys from the Beach are replaced by a heaven sent choir and Spencer Martin’s syrupy autotune vocals, a creation just as divine.

The juxtapositions and contradictions that make Lunch Money Life so exciting are brought to the fore at the exact moment that ‘Year Old’ reaches a state of bliss; instantly, guitarist Sean Keating’s shredding plunges the group into ‘New Heardsmen’, a hellfire rock brawler that scampers from one filthy riff to another. From this jumping off point, they scuttle into a mutant sound collage (‘The God Phone’), a duo of spacey RnB numbers (‘Telecommunion’ and ‘In Jesus’ Name’) and a hyperactive acid rap (‘Mother (featuring Lady Lykes)’). For this group, the complete disregard for conventional notions of genre are par for the course, but this is overzealous by their standards.

But it is the second half of the record that chimes the loudest. ‘The God Phone II’ is a real highlight, as grime sirens lead the group down a winding avant-prog path where strange sound effects lurk at every corner. Perhaps, this is where the group’s noise is at its largest – Stewart Hughes’ drums wouldn’t be out of place on a Rush record, while Spencer and brother Jack Martin’s analogue synthesisers compete to see who can scorch the Earth the most.

‘Bacchanal’ is the moment where The God Phone sounds most like a soundtrack, albeit one for a kind of B-movie horror film with sci-fi. Dungeon synths swoosh and sweep the soundscape with crystalline tones, and Luke Mills-Pettigrew lays down a real terse funk bassline. ‘And The Devil Picks Up’ carries forth this momentum, a winding jazz fusion cut that lands somewhere between prime ‘Head Hunters’ era-Herbie and the silky West Coast G-funk of Pink Siifu’s latest B Cool Aid adventure.

A number of things about Lunch Money Life are indicative of a group that don’t take themselves too seriously. The name, for one, remains a bit lost on me. Their endless fusions and fissions of genres are incredibly mischievous, and every single release is supplemented by its own puckish lore – i.e. The God Phone soundtracks a lost film of the same name, and 2022’s ‘Jimmy J Sunset’ was inspired by a cease and desist letter from Nic Cage’s entourage.

Beneath this facade though, Lunch Money Life are as serious as your life – the breakdowns, the riffs, the grooves, are so potent and so masterful. They scratch every itch so well. The God Phone is their most complete work to date. It simply sounds big whilst capturing the catharsis of their live shows and portraying a wildly inventive band reaching their absolute prime.