The idea of fabricating a new psychedelia has long been an ambition of many electronic artists. Too often, though, the likes of Death In Vegas and The Chemical Brothers have stumbled in their attempts: thwarted by limited talent; anxious to import worn rock’n’roll iconography rather than capitalise on the oceanic possibilities of the music that inspired them.
Up In Flames is a little different. In 2001, Dan Snaith was discovered in Toronto, studying maths and making engrossing, humane electronica in the vein of his friend Kieran (Four Tet) Hebden. Two years on, Snaith has relocated to London, played a lot of hip hop records in the middle of his live sets and completed an astonishing second album. Up In Flames takes the most levitating alt.rock of the last decade or so as its springboard, meriting comparison with My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, Stereolab and (though he’d never heard them) the early work of Mercury Rev.
Instead of creating digital facsimiles, however, Snaith grasps the opportunities these richly imaginative bands offer and comes up with a genuinely awe-inspiring mix of live, sampled and processed Technicolor sound. “Every Time She Turns Round It’s Her Birthday” mimics the relentless crescendos of Spiritualized’s “Angel Sigh” but goes further, punctuating the horn voluntaries with euphoric multi-tracked gasps and a great wall of motorik breakbeats. After five-and-a-half minutes, a saxophone solo reminiscent of Pharoah Sanders blows in to up the cosmic ante even further. In comparison, the likes of The Chemical Brothers’ “Private Psychedelic Reel” shrivel into insignificance.
It’s one of those albums where the audacity is often as breathtaking as the ideas. In a rare moment of understatement, “Crayons” ostensibly updates The Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Never Understand” by replacing feedback with a toy xylophone. Elsewhere, though, Snaith triumphs by going overboard whenever possible. The result is both adventurous and accessible, a record in love with the obliterating power of sound.