The strongest Legendary Pink Dots album of 2015 snuck in just under the wire as a digital release, with a delayed vinyl version expected in a few months from new Spanish label Abstrakce. Intended as a “secret” sister album to the earlier Five Days, Quantum Bleats sounds a lot more like the work of an actual band, though it is no less fragmented and hallucinatory. Everything feels a lot more deliberate, melodic, fully formed, and evocative this time around: there are a number of beautifully orchestrated passages, snatches of playful cabaret, and muscular bass lines lurking amidst all of the usual free-form psychedelic sprawl. While it probably focuses a bit too much on the ambiguous no-man’s land between “song” and “abstract experimentation” to rank among the Dots’ best work, it is nevertheless quite clear that most of Edward Ka-Spel’s more inspired recent ideas found their way here.
Curiously, Ka-Spel has described this album as “as far out as the Dots may have gone in their history.” In one way, that statement seems quite far from the mark, given the existence of truly bizarre past albums like The Creature That Tasted Sound or the Chemical Playschool series. In another, however, Seismic Bleats is indeed a legitimately unhinged affair, so maybe the statement just warrants an asterisk with the qualification “at least, as far as song-based albums are concerned.” That, said “song-based” might also warrant an asterisk as well, as only one piece fully emerges from the kaleidoscopic fantasia to make a strong impression: the fun, lurching cabaret of “Checkpoint,” which unexpectedly dissolves into a sample of an old waltz after only about two minutes. The opening “Colonel Sanders” veers similarly close to being an instant classic, marrying a cool bass line with a strong vocal melody amidst spacey washes of synthesizers. Again, however, things fail to progress in a conventionally satisfying linear fashion, as the song is warped and distended into near-unrecognizability around the 3-minute mark. It feels a lot like Jamaican dub filtered through the prism of Edward Ka-Spel’s deviant mind, as recognizable bits keep surfacing from the original fully formed song, but everything else is generally replaced entirely or dissolves into vapor.
In general, the appeal of Seismic Bleats lies primarily in just waiting around to see what surfaces next from the bleary miasma of psychedelic wanderings. Surprises definitely abound, as “Checkpoint” alone features chirping birds, wildly pitch-shifted vocals, something that sounds like a field recording from a Russian train platform, and the aforementioned foray into ballroom dance and none of it sounds at all out of place. Soon after, a haunting tambura solo gradually dissolves into a thunderstorm, bringing the first side of the album to a close. The second side then kicks off with a piece that initially sounds like a menacing twist on classic Pink Floyd (“Quantum Leap”), but that naturally collapses into a black void of howling cosmic horror and a deep, echoing mantra (which I believe is also being played backwards). Once that happens, things basically stay that way: the first side of the album is devoted to far more tender, human fare and a cavalcade of small surprises, while the second side is almost entirely a dark, haunted, and sustained plunge into deep space, though it does feature an unexpected interlude of something resembling steel drums. To their eternal credit, “Stanley Kubrick meets a resort vacation in Trinidad” is a description that I probably would not get to use for any other band besides the Dots.
Despite being quite different, there is a weird symmetry to the two sides of the album. The first half feels like a wildly unpredictable and jumbled dream where each fresh batch of synapse firings takes me out of where I was and drops me somewhere else. While undeniably dream-like in the extreme, it is definitely not a coherent one (even by dream logic’s very loose standards). The second half also feels like a dream, but like a dream that a broken computer in an abandoned space ship might be having. Or perhaps one that a quantum sheep might be having. It is hard to say. The one thing for certain is that it is all spectacularly warped and that it all ends in brilliantly sublime fashion (with Ka-Spel repeatedly intoning “up the river…down the river” over a bed of burbling water and eerie electronic washes and drones). This is definitely a very ambitious and intermittently fascinating work, albeit far from a perfect one. That said, Seismic Bleats’ faults seem to be completely by design: none of the best parts ever stick around long enough to be satisfying or leave a strong impression because everything is gleefully stretched, broken, pulled apart, or otherwise warped in service of Ka-Spel and company’s larger vision. I just wish that the lulls between the best parts were a little more infrequent (and shorter). Oh well. I cannot complain all that much though, as I would much rather hear an inspired near-miss than anything familiar: this is a fine and deeply aberrant album and it is all the more enjoyable because it goes so far off the rails rather than merely revisiting well-worn LPD territory.
by Anthony D’Amico