“There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it.” (1948 essay, “To Be Continued, Unnoticed” by Man Ray.)
The cover art for London-based art-rock band Rayographs‘ eponymous debut gives us a clue to what’s inside; music which evokes dark suffuse shadowy images, not unlike the camera-less photography technique pioneered by influential Dadaist Man Ray in the 1920s from which the band gets its name. On Rayographs, conventions often give way to something more stark and atmospheric, and ultimately more satisfying. Perhaps the great man got it wrong.
A general buzz of excitement greets the release in London where the band have been steadily building a following for about 3 years with a series of promising releases, gigs and other collaborations. Underground producer John Hannon (whose credits include Hundred Reasons and James Blackshaw) has helped them take things to the next level, pinning down the dark and dense psychedelia which emerges from guitarist Astrud Steehouder, bassist Jessamine Tierney and drummer Amy Hurst’s metronomic beat. The undeniably claustrophobic feeling some of the music creates gives the band’s music a cinematic eeriness at times; no coincidence then that one of the album’s most featured songs ‘Space Of The Halls’ is set to a David Lynch-inspired video, its 60s garagepop aesthetic punctuated with lots of dark twists and turns.
Opener ‘In Her Light’ is brisk and urgent, moody and clawing, and may be a nod to Grace Slick and the early psychedelic incarnation of Jefferson Airplane like on their 1967 debut Surrealistic Pillow. It’s an impressive standout track, but every song on Rayographs tells a different story. ‘Providence, Rhode Island’ is dedicated to American surrealist photographer Francesca Woodman, and is told with heavy Fall-like bass and spiky shrieks of Banshees guitar, the rawness giving it a nice sense of wild abandon. ‘My Critical Mind’ uses a clever subvocalised ‘echo’ effect, the stream-of-conscious sounds hypnotic and poetic. They pen great lyrics, some of these sum up the band’s message:
“It doesn’t matter how it started, it doesn’t matter where it all began / we were looking for a place to jump on this constantly rotating twisting evolving chain … there is no order of things, just a sequence of illuminated events embedded in memory”
”Falconberg Court’ is also cleverly dreamlike, the walk of the somnambulist, revolving around a clever loop which brings to mind PJ Harvey’s recent ruminations on war in Let England Shake. “Celebrate and commemorate … things that no longer exist”. ‘Cartwheels’ is about the personal reflections of Nan Donohoe, an Irish tinker travelling about the Midlands of England during the 50s. ‘Marazion’ restores a sense of urgency to the sound, we’re reminded again it is just a rock record isn’t it? But then drifting off again into dreamlike psychedelic chants and wails. ‘You Are Made Of Glass’ tinkers with piano and improvisation, a nice understated ending and obtuse tribute to Philip Glass.
Of course, in terms of conventional indie rock there’s also plenty to admire on Rayographs. The band has drawn comparisons with the aforementioned Grace Slick and PJ Harvey, particularly with Astrud Steehouder’s strident vocal style, but there’s also a subtlety and emotional depth about a lot of the songs here, their dark shadowy menace possibly closer to something Martin Hannett realized on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, and the rich seam of experimentalism on songs like ‘November’ more akin to the Can classic Tago Mago than anything to do with white rabbits! The stark ethereal beauty which resonates through Rayographs debut may even confound Man Ray, leaving more with the listener than it takes … progress is indeed possible!