10 Nov 2016

The Moonlandingz / Blak Hanz (EP review)

Black Hanz EP - 10"I said it in an earlier, less pretentious primer for this EP, and I'll say it again: The Moonlandingz are not only one of *the* great bands operating in the world today, but they're the Vladislav Surkovs of guitar music. Maybe to explain what this quite possibly contrived metaphor in its full glory its best I explain what a Moonlandingz is. And what a Vladislav Surkov is. Sure, there'll be unanswered questions; why does it end with a Z, Cal? Is it necessary that you've churned out nearly 2000 words, Cal? Are you sure its that deep, Cal? Can't you just enjoy the fact that it's good music and get on with you life, Cal? Well, if the fact I can't answer these questions phases any of you I suggest you tune out, pick up the closest NME to hand, and skim through Noel Gallagher's Top 7 Psychological Thrillers. This is not an EP for those that need everything in black and white, and well, if you've ever ordered a carpet sample. this EP is not for you.

So where to start? What are The Moonlandingz? Well, to wholly understand this we've gotta cast our minds back, to the distant past: early 2015 to be exact. A time when Donald Trump was just a satanic businessman, with a lot of blood on his hands for non-party political reasons. A time when an EU referendum was just an electoral tactic. And a time when we didn't know whether there'd actually be a sequel to Blade Runner. Et cetera.

May 2015. Avant-garde northern type experimentalists The Eccentronic Research Council have just released their fourth album, which is called something to the effect of Johnny Rocket, Narcissist and Music Machine, I'm Your Biggest Fan. It follows the narrator - resident of fictional Yorkshire town Valhalla Dale - on her spiralling journey into debilitating Humbert Humbert obsession with Johnny Rocket, lead singer in a band called "The Moonlandingz". Maxine Peake, your humble narrator, describes them as a "cosmic synth krautabilly group doing fuzzy Joe Meek-style pop", a description that is bang on the money. But instead of letting The Moonlandingz be a mere footnote, a namecheck in Peake's twisted allegory, the ERC enlisted the help of the most shamanic songwriting duo this side of Lux Interior's death; Lias and Saul of South London's Fat White Family.

For said LP, Lias adopted the persona of Johnny Rocket; "godlike troubador" and frontman of The Moonlandingz and the biggest thing to hit Yorkshire since Heaven 17 stepped up stage with and got everybody moving to the groove groove for the very first time. The Moonlandingz' cameo appearances almost manage to singlehandedly steal the show from the ERC themselves, on their own album.

A collaboration between Lias, Saul and the Eccentronic Research Council, the 3 Moonlandingz tracks on the Johnny Rocket album are; the lightning flash of omni-pop Sweet Saturn Mine, the dark, dark ketamire of Psych Ersatz, and the alt-folk letter of resignation from life itself, Lay Your Head Down In The Road. Each of them brimming with perfection that is normally reserved for bands that actually exist in real life.

This segues nicely into my earlier point, y'know, four paragraphs ago where I compared the band to Vladislav Surkov; "the Vladislav Surkovs of guitar music", I said. At this point I know what any rational person would say. They'd go; hey Cal! You've established more than enough content, just review the bloody record. But here's where I explore further, definitely against your will, just how surreal the notion of a band that are non-fictional is. So. Who is that Surkov fellow I've namechecked five or six times? Well, Vladislav Surkov was a senior figure in Putin's government, and like Kraftwerk or Windom Earl, he's every bit as dangerous as he is clever. His plan to destabilise protest movements was thus; he pumped state funding into different groups of every description. Right wing groups. Left wing groups. Neo Nazi groups. Anti government groups. And then told everything about it. Imagine that. The disorientation! The madness! How would you know what was real? He was the "engineer of make believe". It doesn't bare thinking about. In Adam Curtis' Hypernormalisation, Surkov's work is easily the scariest part, and seeing as that documentary took away my ability to sleep for weeks. So how does that tie in with The Moonlandingz?

What The Moonlandingz do is blur the boundaries between the real and the non-real - their liminal existence in the music world allows their music to be braver and whackier than that of their parent bands the FWF and the ERC. Here we have a band that are a fiction, a group that both do and don't exist and playing on that very fact. Everything fizzes along tiptoeing between being a completely serious project and part of a huge in-joke.  It allows Lias Saoudi to glam up in a way that's just batshit, and perform in a botched array of tinfoil, pillowcases and facepaint without it even beginning to feel in any way contrived or tacky. The Moonlandingz are just ridiculous, and their music is such brilliant pop that takes in these inevitably larger than life personas and spatters their wretched hollering in between fizzes and fuzzes of the band's spaced out guitar lines. Blak Hanz - this week's new EP - is a continuation of what has gone before. It's music that laughs at itself in places, but never stops sounding utterly fantastic.

The title track opens the narcotic proceedings of this liminal aural feast. Johnny Rocket's post-Crampsian holler compliments a krautpop guitar smorgasbord, which fizzes along beautifully for a minute or two in shimmering fashion, before vintage synthesisers and deadpan backing vocals from satan herself suck the sonic offerings through a wormhole, taking the track from Valhalla Dale to the very depths of hell itself. There's a nervous twitch to the Moonlandingz, everything sounds like its a crucial cog in the machinery of a mental breakdown which can occur any moment - extreme synth wah-wahing and screams, what more could the twenty first century schizoid man want from an off kilter offering of cosmic death pop.

Johnny Rocket brings with him the same Byronic reptialian caws to Drop It Fauntleroy, which carries around the same ominous promise of black mass and electric storm as Blak Hanz does, only with the twitchy pop edge replaced by a bit of filthy, twiddly guitar motifs that make you want to rinse your skin with bleach as soon as you hear them, as well as barks and yelps that make an attempt to harmonise with one Mr Rocket's perfect rock 'n' roll caterwauling. The whirring and bleeping and blooping that spews thick and fast from the vintage synthesisers - that The Moonlandingz' mothership group the ERC bring to the table - adds so much to the music. It brings their music away from the dirgey underworld of the Fat White Family and blasts it into hyperspace in a way that's as reminiscent of Phillip K. Dick as it is of any of the usual touchpoints.

What The Fat White Family do so perfectly is churn out and disgorge our cultural airwaves with music so transcentally reflective of culture - their dirges, their slimey brand of garage couldn't sum up the uncertainty of modern living any better if they had to pay bedroom tax on it (a pun that works because 'garage' is a music genre and also something you'd have to pay bedroom tax on). Conversely though, what The Moonlandingz do is present you with an alternative reality, with an ultra-escapist sci-fry up of krautrock, Moroder, Suicide and Detroit punk - probably pop music history's most futuristic component moments - to present you with something which caresses you with a kind of retro futurism that is done so perfectly that - like any great classic science fiction flick - it trasnsports you to the sweet mines of Saturn in an instant.

Maybe the darkest instance of this comes with the Blak Hanz EP's closer. The crushing dystopia of the remix of Psych Ersatz, the robotronic steak out originally included on the Moonlandingz EP, is - via an ERC revamp - sucked even further still into the sub-atomic void. If you thought Psych Ersatz was dark territory for this krautabilly fuzz-pop band, wait til the scumbag stomp of this version subsumes you, really asphyxiates you with fat (with a pee hache) blocks of intrusive synthesisers. Let's be real here boys and girls; if the synth sound The Moonlandingz get is the drug, then hell! I wanna OD!

On paper, some people might struggle to get their head around a band that doesn't really exist. You know what people are like. But put succinctly, The Moondlandingz are the perfect side project for one of the best bands in the known universe. Fascinating the prospect of the context they're making music in might be, it's completely inescapable that even without the narrative from which they were birthed the band's art would be amazing to anyone with even a granule of musical taste. Cosmic synths, melodies all over the shop, and vocal performance that brings to mind the bygone days of Iggy and Lux's shamanism, the music contained on the new extended play from The Moonlandingz is so amazing that they might just put the bands that actually exist outta business.


(Words: Cal Cashin)