Following massive UK acclaim and extensive overseas touring (including a triumphant US debut at CMJ in NYC), Nottingham's Late Of The Pier are ready to unleash their genre-busting debut album Fantasy Black Channel on the US. At once darkly chaotic and unabashedly pop, Late Of The Pier's music is almost impossible to describe, pushing stylistic boundaries to the edge of no control. Produced by superstar DJ-producer Erol Alkan, Fantasy Black Channel is huge in both scope and ambition, an exuberant rush of glam, psychedelia,nu-wave, dancepunk, metal and madcap sci-fi experimentation. Not every band can throw shards of Zappa, Queen, Eno-era Roxy Music, Prince, Gary Numan, DFA, Bloc Party and The Klaxons into a blender and come out with something as defiantly unique and grandly anthemic. One of the most promising and buzzworthy bands out today, Late Of The Pier have already garnered huge press and web visibility at Blender, Pitchfork, Brooklynvegan, Spin.com, Nylon, AP, Blackbook, Interview, Fader, Bigshot, Flaunt, Filter, Billboard, not to mention the covers of NME, The Fly and Art Rocker.
Nu-rave may be over, but Late of the Pier make for a very compelling after-party band. Sharing the tech savoir-faire of bands like Metronomy, Apes & Androids, and Shitdisco, the English four-piece's debut Fantasy Black Channel strives to compress the 1980s into a dozen MP3s, unzipping hedonistic nostalgia for a generation of consumers entranced by the pop styles immediately preceding their birth. Obviously they're not alone in their exploitation of that decade, but with 2007 single "Bathroom Gurgle", a sprawling smorgasbord of 80s electro pop and soul, the band showed potential to actually deliver on the retro promise.
Assigned to bottle this lightning, Erol Alkan does his usual shtick behind the boards, blasting everything into the red until it sounds like a sci-fi cartoon theme. Criticized for his de-humanizing touch on the Long Blondes' bleak "Couples", here Alkan's cyborg sensibilities feel more fitting. After all, this is hardly verse-chorus-verse Britpop or post-punk he's playing Frankenstein with-- LOTP thrive on labyrinthine song structures and stylistic misdirection, in case "Gurgle" didn't make that obvious enough already.
In fact, the whole album plays out like an 80s medley curated by the Human League, Prince, and 1984-era Van Halen. After a minute-long opener, it's a free-for-all: David Bowie-inspired space operas like "Broken" or "VW" butt up against relatively conventional dancefloor favs like "The Bears are Coming" and "Focker"; the only common elements between them are Alkan's piercing synths and frontman Samuel Eastgate's loose lyrical themes involving existential dread, hedonism, and a fixation on animals and nature.
Unfortunately, some instances of supposed chaos feel rote, following the "Gurgle" blueprint a bit too closely and shoehorning an obligatory dance breakdown between disparate sections. Eastgate's lyrics, while delivered well, often aren't doing anyone any favors either, pining over techno-paranoia clichés or vague, half-hatched poetry. There are attempts at a more refined pop craft, like the twitchy XTC-inspired "The Enemy Are the Future", but even that track ultimately succumbs to a hi-hat outro, leaving the most memorable vocals hooks as the ones that are the least intelligible and human.
Considering how this band's buzz originated from a quirky electro single in the vein of "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", Fantasy Black Channel's unevenness shouldn't be that surprising, but the flaws are troublesome. At its best moments, the debut sounds like an A.V. club president's wet dream, unabashedly nerdy and technically proficient. Sadly though, the record is peppered with aesthetically dubious nu-rave moments, making LOTP sound less like sympathetic revenging nerds and more like party-crazed dude-bros who just happen to own synths.
— Adam Moerder, January 14, 2009