I honestly never thought that The Telescopes would have lasted this long. To say that is not to disparage the considerable talents of front-man Stephen Lawrie but, rather, to acknowledge the presence of something a bit unhinged underneath the band's music, the sound of chaos roiling underneath the normal, a faint hint that things could go dangerously wrong at a moment's notice. Now, some 30 years or so after this group first burst forth, The Telescopes are releasing their second album of 2017. Stone Tape, out now, follows the superb As Light Return earlier this year. The new record is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a slight departure from the last record, preferring instead a ride on some sinister undercurrents instead of a flash or two of feedback. In short, Lawrie's gift for conjuring up something that transports a listener is undiminished.
Now, it's worth sharing a bit of the press material for this record, especially since this one is, apparently, a concept album:
"'Stone Tape' is a concept album inspired by the 'Stone Tape Theory', theorized by Thomas Charles Lethbridge in 1961. The archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer developed the idea that inanimate materials can absorb energy from living beings, and that this mental electrical energy, released during emotional or traumatic events, could somehow be 'stored' in such materials and 'reproduced' under certain conditions."
So, given that bit of information, Stone Tape may become a richer listening experience but, as it is, it's a fairly rewarding, if brief, one. Opener "Become The Sun" is near drone-rock, pure coiled tension ready for release, while the evocative "The Desert In Your Eye" slows things down even further, Lawrie nearly slurring the lyrics. Elsewhere, the excellent and epic-length "Everything Must Be" marries a space-rock sense of openness to the drone to delicious effect, Lawrie here venturing far beyond his old shoegaze haunts, while the slight-gallop of "Dead Inside" sees Stephen return, if only briefly, to some flashes of feedback-drenched unease. This leaves the more accessible "Silent Water" a standout here on Stone Tape in terms of direct indie-pop appeal.
All that being said, I found Stone Tape enormously rewarding. Wisely, Lawrie didn't make it a very long album, and so even a longer song doesn't feel too tedious on what is a short(er) release. Given the record's relative brevity, a patient listener can indulge Lawrie as he goes quietly off the rails here, producing music that is unsettling, unnerving, and damn beautiful all at once. Oddly, like Gillespie getting "Higher Than The Sun", Lawrie has found some sort of inspiration here as these drawled-out dreamscapes are enormously pleasurable to listen to. Set aside some time and give this one a spin for further indication of the continued, if sometimes neglected, genius of Mr. Stephen Lawrie.
[Photo: Raul Divaev]