Working For A Nuclear Free City
Businessmen & Ghosts
here’s always a worry between initially hearing a great band and the release of their first record / major label debut / difficult second album / comeback special that somewhere along the line they’ll fuck it up. Fortunately with Working For A Nuclear Free City the first thing I heard was their terrific eponymous debut; an almost flawless lucid-dream trip through a thousand fantastical influences, it portrayed the city as narrative (mostly) without recourse to words, a kind of potted history of Manchester that spread to take in Canadian laptop shoegaze, intellectual art music, Rugby drone pop, dirty funk, a snippet of social commentary, and a whole big heap of cloudy psychedelia. Had I heard it in 2006, when it came out, it would probably have been my favourite album of that year.
WFANFC have recently signed to Deaf Dumb & Blind Records in the United States, though, and, as a result, their debut album is being released again; only not. Businessmen & Ghosts is the debut re-imagined, expanded, augmented, renamed, and re-released. It now includes the superlative Rocket EP from earlier this year, plus almost an entire album’s worth of other new songs, pumping it up to a massive 29 tracks and 104 minutes spread over two CDs.
Astoundingly, not one of the songs presented here is bad. Even more astoundingly, the carefully sequenced running order of the eponymous debut isn’t ignored in favor of a hotch-potch ‘chuck as much together as possible’ ethos; tracks are rearranged, yes, but they still segue and evolve into and through one another in a way that leaves most other bands looking like clumsy oiks. Each disc starts with the same weird keyboard tones, redolent of ‘80s educational TV programmes; it’s a simple touch, but gives a sense of cohesion.
And so to the songs we’re already familiar with, if we’re lucky. We have the strange, spoken-word and seismic-kick-drum oddness of “Heaven Kissing Hill” from Rocket, breaking into a screaming crescendo, finding its way back, and then collapsing into laughter. We have “Rocket” itself, evolving from nothing into a shuffling, distantly anthemic hymn to escapism (“If you feel unclean better bleach your body / If you wanna leave better build a rocket”) worthy of the Beta Band at their dislocated, emotive best. As is the beatific hum and thump of “Stone Cold,” saying more with a chord-change and an acoustic chime than many supposedly sensitive singers ever manage.
From the debut, there is the foggy disco revivalism of “Troubled Son” and “Dead Fingers Talking,” proudly revelling in the deepness of their bass and the urging of their beats; the none-more-Spiritualized drone+explode of “Over,” still needing to be heard to be believed; the beatific pastures and harmonics of “Quiet Place”; the shoegazey textures and explosions of “So,” and the joyous laptronica of “Forever”: whatever direction WFANFC take their music in, they somehow make it work.
The new material ought by rights to seem tacked-on and rushed, but it actually deepens WFANFC’s appeal by further cementing their aesthetic and making them seem less like talented and tasteful magpies cherry-picking subjects for well-observed homage. “Eighty Eight” opens with a squall of feedback before descending into a savagely direct groove, decorated with oscillations of distortion and squelching, corrupted vocals. “Donkey” ties together woodblock taps with upfront pulses of bass, a drum’n’bass derived snare rattle, and a sneering, dismissive vocal dropped on top, and “Get a Fucking Haircut” is a relentlessly cheeky barrage of beats and riffs that sounds like something the Stone Roses might have tossed off while they were rehearsing “Begging You.”
The sweet strums and wanderings of “Sarah Dreams of Summer” and the weird vocal ticks and backwards guitar licks of “Apron Strings” demonstrate that the band aren’t just relentless discopunks, while the extended triptych that is “Nancy Adam Susan (Shatter)” and its sister in strung-out chiming grooviness, “England,” show that WFANFC can manage epic just as well as they can concise (the vast majority of their songs clock in at under four minutes), never losing a hold on their corrupted, rich, and dreamlike aesthetic.
If there’s a problem with Businessmen & Ghosts, it’s that it’s mastered considerably louder than the original debut album and the “Rocket” EP were; there’s no noticeable digital clipping or loss of precious detail, and much of the music’s dynamics are preserved, but something almost intangible is lost in terms of the sense of space and otherness that typified the band’s first two releases. A complete lack of headroom means there’s not much leeway for turning things up really loud. As a result some of the new tracks like “Eighty Eight” can seem a touch too punishing and relentless, even if they’re not actually wave-hammered into oblivion. WFANFC still don’t really sound like anybody else, but they also sound a little less like themselves too.
I’m picking at minutiae though really; Working For A Nuclear Free City are still light years better than the vast majority of British rock bands active at the moment, and Business & Ghosts, although long, dense, and occasionally unwieldy, is terrific testament to the early stages of a talented new band. I wouldn’t be without it.