Music is the best mood-alterer we have. Put on a record and you can find yourself grinning involuntarily a few moments later; conversely, stand in an elevator for more than a few seconds involuntarily listening to crackly saxophone-driven muzak that manages to hit that precise treble frequency which is the sonic equivalent of toothache, and you can feel suicidal. Either way, music has a profound ability to make us feel altered.
A key part of that is a sense of otherworldliness, the way music can move you – move as in transport you, not as in make you all teary-eyed, although that’s good too. Otherworldliness is something which has got lost in the JLo video vacumn, where life is an endless procession of cherographed pretty vacuity and bragging about the amassing of consumer durables. Step up, then, the sublimely named Atomic Swindlers who are ready to catapult you into another world far, far away from the soulless confines of corporate pop. With the updated Barbarella schtick of front woman April Laragy and tracks like “Intergalactic Lesbian Love Song”, it’s clear that the Swindlers are heading for another time and space.
Whilst Atomic Swindlers appear archly future-cartoonish in presentation – reinforced by the truly beautiful animated video that accompanied their debut single “Float (My Electric Stargirl)” – musically they have a surprising amount of depth. If you can summon up the exuberance of glam-era Bowie topped off with Ms Leragy’s self-assured Blondie meets Ziggy vocals, you get the idea.
There’s some great guitar fellatio moments – Sex66 is the standout rock-out track here, oozing come-hither-if-you-dare arrogance, while “Diamond Dreamer” unashamedly kicks off with the riff from “Hang On To Yourself” and the glorious “Intergalactic Lesbian Love Song” tells a story with a twist Nick Cave would be proud of. For all the guitars though, Atomic Swindlers are remarkably restrained on many of their songs – there are some quite beautiful quieter tracks here.
The aforementioned debut single “Float” is a case in point, an ethereal bittersweet lovesong that effortlessly conjures up the atmosphere of the Swinders’ future world. “Drag”‘s anthemic chorus belies the intimacy of its yearning lyrics, whilst “Underground Love” describes the uncertain beginnings of new passion. April Laragy’s evocative voice is given plenty of room to hold entire tracks together, and this can only be a good thing – it particularly comes out on “Wonderlove”, which sounds like a retake of Bowie’s “Drive In Saturday”.
Indeed, there is not so much a debt owed here to David Bowie as an unrepayable contract with a loan shark: the ghosts of Ziggy and Aladdin Sane flit from track to track on Coming Out Electric – Christ, on some songs it sounds like Bowie is doing the backing vocals himself, Transformer style. You may think this is a criticism, but you’d be dead wrong. If you’re going to plunder someone’s back catalogue, you might as well remake and remodel new music from the remnants of the 20th century’s most consistently innovative artist. And, crucially, Atomic Swindlers walk the fine line between mere pastiche and musical progress with aplomb. Here they’ve produced a great debut album that unashamedly wears its influences on its sleeve but shapes them for the most part into something new. This is indeed a great rock’n’roll swindle.
[There’s an official Atomic Swindlers site where you can hear music clips, see the video, and more.]