Edinburgh alternative outfit The Cathode Ray release their highly anticipated second album ‘Infinite Variety’ on April 20th 2015 through Stereogram Recordings. Sonically, ‘Infinite Variety’ is an experimental affair - acoustic in places; more electronic in others; punkier, funkier and proggier too - but still recognisably The Cathode Ray. It’s also, very loosely, a concept album.
Although ‘Infinite Variety’ visually references the natural world both through the artwork and aurally in the music, it also refers lyrically to the human condition – more specifically, our emotions. Whilst not strictly speaking a concept album, the eleven tracks do plot a loose narrative which form a song cycle.
Divided roughly into three sections we travel from futility, adversity and negativity to hope, redemption and positivity via a period of change, reassessment and insight.
1. ‘Backed Up’/’Resist’/’Nowhere At All’/’Don’t Waste Your Words’ give us fear, paranoia, lust and betrayal.
2. ‘Buck The Trend’/’No Holds Barred’/’Eureka Moment!’ equates to transformation, honesty and realisation.
3. ‘This Force Of Nature’/’Torn Apart’/’The Eyes Are The Window To The Soul’/’Saving Grace’ celebrates love in all it’s forms: found, lost, squandered and unconditional.
‘Backed Up’, the album opener, is a slow burning epic with both post-punk and psychedelic flourishes in places. It builds from nothing, via some dissonant chords from Steve Fraser, to a huge crescendo with a sing-a-long chorus, only to break down to where it all began at the end. Echoes of Syd-era Floyd, and 70s Bowie are detectable.
‘Resist’, the single, is short and snappy at just over 2 minutes long. It’s a sort of crazy punk rock/krautrock oompah hybrid. ‘”Like Wire kicking Blur up the arse” as one critic has already put it.
‘Nowhere At All’ could be described as a first cousin of earlier material like ‘Lost & Found’ and ‘What’s It All About?’, so probably the most recognisably ‘Cathode Ray-like’ track on the album. Steve Fraser and Jeremy Thoms’ guitar parts interlock as one, whilst David Mack’s metallic percussion recalls Depeche Mode at their industrial peak.
The Cathode Ray’s glam-rock roots are exposed on the Iggy/Glitter Band stomp of ‘Don’t Waste Your Words’, a paean to stop messing about and get to the point.
‘Buck The Trend’ is part German motoric, part L.A. Woman, part Art Rock. If Talking Heads had relocated to Berlin in 1978, they might have sounded like this.
‘No Holds Barred’ has a sleazy riff-based slow groove, which gives way to a Stones-inspired chorus. Shades of latter day Orange Juice also pervade proceedings.
‘Eureka Moment!’ features tribal drums from David Mack in the verses which meet sequenced electro-disco in the choruses. Features both vibra-slap and tubular bells. Euro disco and Juju-era Banshees are discernible influences.
On ‘This Force Of Nature’, love is the force under discussion. This is a joyous dance/rock hybrid with some neat guitar interplay from Fraser & Thoms, reminiscent of New Order in acoustic/electric guitar mode.
‘Torn Apart’ is a veritable sonic cathedral which drone noiseniks will love. My Bloody Valentine and The Cocteau Twins are evoked, and a tender ballad lurks beneath the surface.
The original demo of ‘The Eyes Are The Window To The Soul’ sounds a bit like early Cure. Neil Baldwin’s flanged bass has remained, but this has ended up closer to the Isley Brothers (according to Roy Moller), with some tasty fuzz guitar lines from Steve Fraser.
Album closer, ‘Saving Grace’ is another epic at almost seven minutes long. A two part song, it starts off as a gentle semi-acoustic ballad with an almost Hawaiian feel with Thoms crooning over the top… Then, part two takes over and all hell breaks loose with a motorik-prog wig out…