Pram Across the Meridian

[Domino; 2018]

Styles: revisionist exotica, space age pop on a bad trip
Others: Pascal Comelade, Riz Ortolani, Make Mine Mondo!

There’s an odd charm to the Japanese New Wave. Spanning through the 1960s and encompassing the works of Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, and Seijun Suzuki, the film movement took the lead of their European counterparts (Godard, Truffaut, Resnais, etc.) and further pushed their provocations both formally and thematically. Yet, interestingly, rather than using rock music as a signifier of youth rebellion, most Japanese New Wave films boasted jazzy scores. Hence, we get to see their abject rebels and nihilistic antiheroes against a background of hard bop and modal jazz. And that’s what makes these movies even better: the combination of universal and local themes, very dated and somewhat timeless tropes, adds up to much more than the sum of its parts.

Pram’s work across the last couple of decades shares that capacity, turning an apparent aesthetic dislocation into their most potent weapon. How else can one describe the appeal of a band creating experimental pop music with stylings from before pop took the shape we know? Across the Meridian, the Birmingham band’s first album in over a decade, provides a worthy new chapter to their 25-year career. In the smoky, jazzy vein of 2003’s Dark Island and 2007’s The Moving Frontier, the new album adds a dreamier hue to Pram’s palette. A bit more laidback than its predecessors and encapsulated by exotic shades, Across the Meridian sits somewhere between Les Baxter’s lovable cheese, the playful ingenuity of Pierre Bastien, and the more twisted corners of a 1970s European TV station library music.

Indeed, Across the Meridian sounds ready to score a black and white movie featuring a trip to Cipango, a 1950s Martian lounge, or a Eurotica-leaning noir story. Yet what gives these songs character and brands them as part of the Pram canon is the eerie undercurrent running through them. That spirit comes to the surface often too, via some ghoulish organs and slightly dissonant guitar work (“Thistledown”), grooves two metal scraps away from summoning Tom Waits (“The Midnight Room”), or an exotic sense of menace (“Footprints towards zero,” “Mayfly”). In total, an uncanny beauty very few artists are able to attain.

Across the Meridian’s 12 tracks partake in the strange elegance that has always characterized Pram, reminding us what hauntology was before all those triangles, inverted crosses, and Polaroid-by-way-of-Instagram filters became trendy. Therefore, even if at times it feels tentative and slight, Across the Meridian is a solid work by a band settling into maturity, drifting from post-rock to a less defined version of psychedelic music, leaving a post-punk rooted gene pool to join pastoral experimentalists like Broadcast, Robert Wyatt, and even The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Considering the band’s catalog as a whole, such a process is as much a rediscovery as a reinvention. And certainly more than enough to spark our curiosity for what a band as restlessly inventive as Pram might want to do next.

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