In their 26-year career, the Legendary Pink Dots have tackled everything from sinister electro-pop to psychedelic jam to industrial rock to pure sound collage experimentalism. Their newest studio album incorporates a little of all of the above, but following in the footsteps of 2006’s Your Children Placate You from Premature Graves, it goes at things from a fairly understated perspective, more thoughtful meditation than freak-out session. Several songs even border on folk, with The Silverman’s synthesizers providing textures so unassuming you barely realize they’re there.
On A World with No Mirrors, vocalist Edward Ka-Spel sings wistfully over Martijn de Kleer’s delicate guitars and Niels van Hoorn’s soft flutes, and Mailman is a deceptively sweet number delivered over plucked banjos and van Hoorn’s playful clarinet honks. Despite the seeming softness – even pleasantness – of many of the songs on Plutonium Blonde, Ka-Spel’s subtle lyricism imbues them with the guarded, wry cynicism of modernity that has become something of a signature. My First Zonee in particular bounces ebulliently along in praise of mobile communication equipment, but the real message of the song is what’s left out, a sense of loneliness and disconnection that makes the song’s perky pacing and sing-song vocals seem all the more forced. An Arm and a Leg, though still imbued with a certain irony, is more overtly dark, Ka-Spel delivering a sinister sort of sales pitch over wavering theremin, nervous piano chords, and treated tape loops.
On album closer Cubic Caesar, the band really comes out in force, each member’s specialty taking a starring role, with de Kleer’s electric guitar jamming over clanking electronics and van Hoorn’s moody woodwind atmosphere, all held together in a sort of half-dream state that’s less enlightening than soporific, making a perfect backdrop for Ka-Spel’s visionary soliloquy of proles tranquilized by mass-market virtual reality entertainment. “Oh me, oh my,” he sings, “I watch paint dry.” It’s a fitting coda to an album that’s in many ways the opposite of mass-marketed entertainment. With Plutonium Blonde, Ka-Spel and company are, as always, both eerily prescient and endlessly fascinating.