There's usually a story behind why somebody falls in love with an album, here's another one.
In 2004 I found the first Flotation Toy Warning album on a listening post in the long-gone Reveal Records in Derby. I can't remember whether it was the name of the band or the painting of seabirds on the cover which drew my in but a quick listen in-store and another CD was added to the collection. The beautifully crafted, slow-moving, happy-sad songs with Paul Carter's fragile,cracked vocals created a unique sound which started a long term musical love affair. The problem was that the creators vanished, so we waited for the next album, and waited, then entered a new decade without hearing anything else from them. In 2011, a new E.P appeared 'When The Boat Comes Inside Your House / A Season Underground' both of which appear on 'The Machine That Made Us', then nothing more. But wait, late 2016 there's Facebook evidence of the band recording something, 5th March 2017 they declare the album finished, a track list appears, and on 16th June 2017 thirteen years after the first album a second arrives.
Within the first thirty seconds of track one 'Controlling The Sea' we're back where we left off in 2004, with the beautifully-paced, multi-layered tracks which build and grow accompanying Paul's distinctive vocals. Those new to Flotation Toy Warning may hear elements of early Arcade Fire , Radiohead, Sparklehorse, Mercury Rev, Grandaddy which combine to make a unique musical compound. There's the addition of a Calexico-style brass section (special mention goes to trumpet player Alistair White, my homonym but no relation) on 'Due to Adverse Weather Conditions All of My Heroes Have Surrendered' and a beautiful extended fade out of “Warm and warm and warm my heart. For I am not the same man now.”
I can't decide whether the subject of 'Everything That is Difficult Will Come to an End' has upset the songwriters “I don't have much time, none of us really do. So I'll be fucked if I'll be spending it with you ”, starts the track as simple duet between voice and piano, or there's something a lot darker here “ It justifies the harm we do wrapped up in pretty songs for you ... I'm sorry that I woke you up. But you're trussed up here like Lilliput ... I kept you how I saw you last. And you're smiling in that photograph” as the guitars build to the closest we get to a solo. Either way it's an extraordinary piece of music.
'King of Foxgloves' is the up-tempo track on the album (these terms are being relative, of course), a trippy rhythm track which accompanies the slightly creepy chorus “ Hold me, fold me. Tell me all you want to do.... Twist me, roll me. You know my love is made for you .”
There's an change of feel for the bleak first half of 'I Quite Like It When He Sings', single notes being picked out on the piano, weird vocal samples and multi-tracked vocals duet with Paul's speak singing, the mood become grander for the second half, it's misery but on a grand scale and just stunning.
Somehow, the bar is raised again for the final track 'The Moongoose Analogue', which uses a looped, multi-tracked vocal sample as part of the rhythm track during the first three verses, the loop breaks down for the whispered and stark section “ There will be no 'Forever'. There will be no 'til the end of time'. Not much, but, that much is clear to me.”, the looped vocals kick back again and this repeats as the track grows and build across it's vast 12 minutes. Perhaps the final words on the album are a reference to the gap between the two albums “ Friends may come and friends may go. But I know you'll be back for more (I was always on your side).”
So we have an album of carefully-constructed, beautifully-paced songs which benefit from the repeated listens which are required to reveal their multiple layers. There are a couple of questions which now require answering.
Could 'The Machine That Made Us' match the first album? Would the thirteen year wait build anticipation up only to lead to crushing disappointment? Well I'm overjoyed to say that in the four days since the album arrived I've listening to nothing else and this is the most beautiful album I've heard so far this year.
Alisdair Whyte (not the trumpet player)