With their triumphant fifth album, Carlisle based four-piece The Lucid Dream continues a fascinating journey that has come by leaps and bounds with each LP since the more typical psychedelic rock of their early years.
Their previous offering Actualisation was one of the finest records of the last decade, venturing into acid house influenced bangers and atmospheric dub while offering glimpses of their more guitar-based roots. This time, electronics are very much at the forefront. The Deep End represents a further development in the group's musical ambitions and an even bigger jump in sonic freedom.
Piercing synth noise and a lively kick form a passage into The Deep End's vibrant world with an 11-minute opener 'Coalescence' setting itself up prominently on the dancefloor, irresistible rumbling bass ramping up the energy as tasty keys and Mark Emmerson's delirious vocals ring out in ecstatic harmony. It's very much like a 21st-century resurrection of Manchester, although the guitars are often sparse across the course of this record.
The battering drums and raging Roland 303 synths on lead single 'CH-03' bring to mind a musical equivalent of a low-flying spitfire blasting everything below with bullets, in places sounding not unlike legendary early 90s dance outfit The Shamen. Most of all, it sounds like a band on a hugely creative roll, something proved further with the drum n bass fuelled dub madness of 'Leave Me In The Dark', where frantic cries of anxiety collide with more of that fattened bass. Howls of squalling feedback rise in and out of the mixture before the speeding vehicle slows down for a terrific melodica-topped outro.
New York hip hop meets baggy on the snarling 'Fight To Survive', one of many lyrically confrontational moments on this six-track LP. Snapping 808 drums and a sleazy guitar hook form a swaggering groove as the funk gets harder with repetition. Taking a full-on dive into Hacienda-like euphoria, the shimmering 'Sunrise' provides a glorious headrush, reaching high for the lasers and developing into an excellent bit of Chicago-like acid house. Occasionally, it recalls Underworld's work and The Beloved, two other notable bands who ditched their guitars for sequencers.
Following on from something that sounds more suited to being pumped out of the speakers in a club, the loud acoustic strums that open the closing 'High And Wild' would have many listeners forgetting that they are listening to an album by the same people. However, rules are something that The Lucid Dream have become impeccably good at breaking, and ending an album of acid house, techno, hip hop, dub, and drum n bass with a psychedelic folk epic is the sort of thing they have allowed themselves the freedom to do. And freedom is indeed the exact vibe the track evokes as the ship sails out of The Deep End and off into the sunset.
It can only make you wonder what they are planning next. One of the greatest expressions of versatility that you will hear this year, The Deep End sees The Lucid Dream stepping up to a whole new level.