Grumbling Fur have an eye on the future, but like all telescoped futures, theirs is a vision of an ever-repeating present, resurfaced to veil its essential sameness. On their third album, Glynnaestra, the former London supergroup (now whittled down to the super-duo of Daniel O’Sullivan and Alexander Tucker) have stepped beyond the cosmic pastoralism and doomy psychedelia of their debut Furrier and into a geodesic dome of Krautrock-inflected mantras and synthesizer astral-pop that was only hinted at in their earlier releases. Yet even with this maturation into a honed futurism, the first half of Glynnaestra possesses a tightly-structured cyclicality that inverts the sense that its music might be advancing us towards some point of departure or becoming, and it’s only until the latter half that it begins to offer any suggestion of an opening onto a new horizon, one that might deliver on its synthetic promise of escape.
Initial offerings find Grumbling Fur locking themselves into a procession of quasi-automated loops, all of which fluctuate and intertwine via panoramic electronic keys and rhythms without referring beyond their own self-contained, solipsistic borders. A prime example is the linear “Protogenesis,” which builds upon the syncopated gaits of a phase-shifted, neon riff to accumulate nearly transparent flickers of echoed guitar and the strobe lights of roving techno bleeps, reaching little more than an accentuation of its own neglected promise. But this is already being too hard on Grumbling Fur, since even though the songs of the opening third inhere in a kind of ritualistic monotony or recycling, there is both enough reinvention from track to track and enough textural evocation to redeem its often confined increments and replications. We see the reinvention in the move from the gurgling buzzes and monastic chants of opener “Ascatudaea,” where they resemble the more recent incarnations of Liars, to the above “Protogenesis,” where they provide antiseptic new wave with a more layered and weightier treatment. And their tonalities change yet again with “Eyoreseye,” a track that despite not moving beyond its underpinning premise, revolves through a sci-fi melody and its aura that’s at once stately and occult, that resonates obliquely towards a world it never breaches.
And speaking of sci-fi, special mention must be made of “The Ballad of Roy Batty,” a continuous, extended chorus that filches its lyrics from Rutger Hauer’s scene-stealing Blade Runner monologue. Over a puttering drum machine and a quietly seething harmonium progression, O’Sullivan and Tucker either celebrate or lament in quasi-spiritualistic verse how they’ve “seen things you people wouldn’t believe/ Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.” Unlike its predecessors, the canticle does attain a pitch of deceptive intensity, with a sustained guitar lead that unobtrusively keens in the background; and depending on your particular mood at the time, the whole piece can sound either strangely uplifting or disarmingly poignant. Why they chose the dying words of an android to articulate their harmonies is of course anyone’s guess, but it would all arguably conform with that same theme of high-technological artifice obscuring a persistent, frail humanity that, in this case, can reside even in humanity’s own creations.
From this unexpected curve ball, the album steadily picks itself up, with the compositions becoming simultaneously more engaging and diverse. “Galacticon” begins with a murky digital bass that could’ve been extrapolated from an early Boards of Canada record, and that slinks towards ascendant, monumental breaths of glassy synth. This latter segment demonstrates in its plastic majesty that, despite their general renown for challenging and sometimes discordant music (in Guapo and Imbogodom respectively), the duo certainly have melodic ears, and later numbers expand on this emergent sensibility, creating the impression that the album is finally marching beyond the almost static, mechanized repetitions that inaugurated it. In line with this development, “Clear Path” features another harmonized vocal refrain that makes it every bit as memorable as “The Ballad of Roy Batty,” and with the addition of acoustic guitar twinklings and strains of meditative cello, the whole song comes across as a form of subtly futurist folk. Equally arresting in its own contrasting way is “Harpies,” a slice of ambiguous, indirect mood rock that lulls itself into a restive somnambulism, its muted guitars and incidental, subliminal noise chugging towards an eventual blackout.
Yet “Harpies” is emblematic of the issue that prevents Glynnaestra from being an unblemished success, since despite its enveloping airs, the instrumental does often reverberate as a little undercooked and sketched out, as if it were the anticipatory intro to a more expansive and consequential piece. A significant minority of the album’s tracks could be charged with this offense, because for all their sheen and arch-modernism, they often don’t build upon their ostensibly innovative foundations, implying that their relative novelty is as much a means of dissembling the scarcity of compositional and musical ideas as it is of achieving anything else. And this accusation, while inapplicable to the bulk of a varied and polychromatic album, returns us to our beginning notion that futurism and futurology, including the popular fascination with their predictions, are chiefly means of distracting us temporarily from the fact that there are some things that will never change.