Still Delivering Fresh and Experimental Pop Music after 13 Years and Six Albums Staying Ahead of their Contempories.
Hard to believe, but the still relatively obscure Pram are in their seventeenth year of existence, and this their 9th proper album is a treasure box of harmonious wonderment. Having found a home on Domino records, the band founded by Rosie Cuckston has developed a sound which fits elegantly between label-mates Stereolab and Mouse on Mars. Musically, Pram are first cousins (if not actual siblings) of John McEntire's Tortoise, employing the elements of tuned percussion, tremelo guitar, lush brass and sampled sonic textures which lend a soundtrack feeling to the compositions but without falling into the realm of aimless noodling.
The stripped back compositions such as Moonminer or Salt & Sand expose Rosie Cuckston's folk-tinged voice in a bare and dry contrast to the pitched-down sample backings, sometimes unresolved and uncomfortable, sometimes hauntingly beautiful. Never seeming to make a chord shift in the obvious direction, the songs have an unpredictable edge which keeps the listener guessing. The ensemble pieces such as The Empty Quarter or Blind Tiger show what a great band they are, with the Trombone of Harry Dawes and Sam Owen's clarinet sounding particularly fine against the cascading keyboards and percussion.
I'm not suggesting that this album is perfect for all occasions - I think it requires the listener's attention and rewards a bit of time spent with it, but for those familiar with the output of Domino this should come as a well received addition to the collection.
Review: Harris Pilton (Oct 4th 2007)
Written by Pandamonium
Editor Rating: 8.2
The Birmingham, England band Pram has released their 11th album, THE MOVING FRONTIER. Their music, as I suppose is the case for most unconventional experimental bands, is an acquired taste. And for fans, there really is no one out there quite like them, which is the reason they are regarded with such fondness — for all their quirks and eccentricities.
Pram formed as a chance meeting between Rosie Cuckston and Sam Owen, self-releasing their debut ep GASH in 1992, a set of Dog Faced Hermans type of jarring and jagged songs which led them to be signed by London’s Too Pure label. It is from there that their sound started to coalesce and the band moved from being a pair to the eventual collective they are today, a mad scientist’s laboratory, a carnival house of mirrors, a hypnotist entranced in his own spell, voices breaking through a curtain of static and hiss, the outer limits of the twilight zone, an android’s dream of electric sheep.
What I like best about Pram is how they manage to retain a human face in the midst of the cerebral, evoking the most human of emotions while fashioning images just slightly off-kilter, half-centered, surreal, of looming terror, altered states, supernatural alchemy, or imaginary exotic locales. They’ve gotten more refined with each recording, but after such a long history, it’s hard to pinpoint them through each of their incarnations. They play like soundtracks for dark, unsettling, noirish films or black and white sci-fi ufo invasion movies. A mish mash of smoke filled jazz clubs with a drummer tapping on the cymbals and a trumpeter passionately blaring out a tune, hypnotic electronica loops, recordings of environments or machines dubbed over white noise, the pulsating rumble of a bass, computer generated gargle, the ghostly fluctuations on the Theremin, and a dizzying array of curious noises and instruments that go into their songs and compositions. In short, they are musical tinkerers in the shop throwing things together to find a certain effect or exude a theme. They are like the people who build humanoid figures out of a wire frame and wet newspaper slapped on for skin, to pop in glass eyes at the sockets, and over the black newsprint, glue on mismatched pictures to form a human collage. And to make them perfect is Rosie Cuckston, with her erudite English accent, singing at times beautifully sweet melodies like lullabies of a poet’s vision, often of lingering memories of childhood bewilderment, wonder, insecurities, and playful imagination from the sober eyes of her current life.
On THE MOVING FRONTIER they return with a very refined recording of 14 tracks, 9 of which are instrumentals and 5 songs where Rosie Cuckston sings in her waif of a voice staring out the barred windows of an orphanage. It’s a voice that some people will immediately discount upon first hearing it, but one that I’ve grown to love hearing.
“The Empty Quarter” opens the set with an unusual low rumble of a guitar and a lonely harmonica thrown into their signature hodge podge that comes out like a wild, wild, wild Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Cuckston sings beautifully, especially on the songs “Salt & Sand”, “Salva”, and “Hums Around Us”, over minimalist synthesized beats that are filled in with a rich mix of electronically generated and organically produced sound. I find Pram at their best when they inject that smoky jazz element as on “Blind Tiger” which descends into a complete riot of trumpets about to get into a fist fight. Their music doesn’t assault you, but works its way into your psychology, and on the instrumental numbers, carves out some intriguing exotic landscapes that seem quite real to the mind, from the aquatically themed “Mariana Deep” and “Beluga” to the time machine contraption of “Iske”.
THE MOVING FRONTIER is a wonderfully made album that peels back the layers of your imagination, that you can actually listen to despite its experimental nature, and for me, almost on par with their most accessible work and my favorite, THE MUSEUM OF IMAGINARY ANIMALS, but also offering up a new leaf that fans will be very happy to see.