I know this road and where it goes
The return of Battery Operated Orchestra sees the electronic duo going big with their fourth studio album release. Yesterday Tomorrow and You boasts songs that dart around themes of escape, memory, disappearing places, ideological subversion and glam rock across 16 tracks of electronic goodness on an album billed as “a survival handbook for the future in four chapters”.
BOO – aka Chris Black and Brigitte Rose – have embraced a love for analogue synths that’s seen them carve out a musical career that’s included the 2011 cover of ‘He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)’ through to the Germanic euphoria of ‘Radiation’ and the dreampop electro of ‘Bella’. The latter culled from BOO’s 2018 album Snare – a Cold War-inspired outing that TEC’s review summed up as “a stunning piece of work that doesn’t require a lot of codebreaking skills to appreciate”.
BOO play around with a lush, warm sound that conjures evocative, heartfelt music, yet still with a raw, garage-electro element to it. Of which, Yesterday Tomorrow and You is a perfect showcase.
In the current Covid culture of lockdowns and live gigs in jeopardy, songs such as ‘The Getaway’ offer an escape of sorts (“Step by step I’ll climb through air/And make my getaway”). Brigitte’s airy vocals soar over a chunky electro foundation. “This song is a dream of escape that’s about to come true” comments BOO on this composition. “It feels right to release it now, with the world locked in. It’s in the hope that we all escape soon that we’re putting it out without delay.”
Meanwhile, ‘Origami Car Swan’ opens up with a warm, detuned slice of electronica that calls to mind the likes of Boards of Canada. The puzzle book lyrics (“Incapable of going slow/Blinded by the static snow”) lend the composition some intrigue, while the rhythms chug along at a respectable pace.
But the album takes a sudden jump to the left with the playful glam electro-rock of ‘Lady Megawatt’, a wonderfully euphoric workout which invites you to slip your dancing shoes on. There’s a physical weight to the music here with some superb vocal delivery from Brigitte, with her statements about “Real friends are hard to find/No connection with my own kind”. The video for the track also plays up its electronic themes with a camp video set in the iconic Battersea Power Station.
Elsewhere, the acerbic ‘Mr System’ bleeps and bloops over a narrative detailing “sycophantic smiles” and “Popcorn for the end of an empire”, a cryptically-penned tale which seems to be vaguely pointing at the song’s titular character – and possible fate (“we can’t wait to see you dive”).
‘White Lies’ tracks closer to BOO’s signature sound of clipped melodies with a more muscular, bassy quality. Offering some commentary on the quirks of social media (“We’re all chasing hits/We must be idiots”), it provokes some questions in the listener, all wrapped up in some engaging, crunchy electronics.
Staying within that particular theme, ‘Here Come The Idiots’ is a brasher number which delivers one of the album’s best moments. Sobering lines such as “You laugh but you’ll be sorry/They’re writing your life story” are offset with bright pop melodies.
Yesterday Tomorrow and You also throws a nod back to the Cold War themes of previous album Snare with the starker ‘Bezmenov’. A sharp slice of observation on the turbulent political climate, the composition draws inspiration from Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov, a former Soviet journalist who offered some unsettling predictions of the future. In particular, the KGB’s concepts of ideological subversion or psychological warfare that could take decades to achieve their objective.
Wrapped up in BOO’s electronic licks, ‘Bezmenov’ does a subtle job of social commentary on current culture in its warm, analogue embrace.
‘Golden Spiral’ provides a perfect ethereal respite for the album’s final third, which continues with the mesmerising melodies of ‘The Dissolve’ (see TEC review previously). A beguiling electropop number built around repeating riffs, it has a strange dreamlike quality enhanced by Brigitte’s gossamer vocal via opaque lines like “Too many ghosts along this street”.
“The Dissolve is an exorcism of memory from place” according to BOO, “Every city is built on the ruins of the past. They change relentlessly. We met in London and the city we once knew has missing parts. The places that meant something to us are gone, replaced by new places and meanings for other people. We all become ghosts of disappeared places.”
On that basis, the composition is an exploration of loss and uncertainty looking at a continually dissolving landscape. This is echoed in the rapidly changing streetscapes and strobing visuals embedded in the video, which offers up an aesthetic culled from grainy cathode ray TV images.
Towards the end, we also get the excellent ‘World Over’ which sees Chris taking on vocal duties. Musing on the end of all things (“It’ll all be over by morning”), it’s a wonderfully wry tune with a particular groove to it.
The album closes out with a charming instrumental. ‘今 (Ima)’ offers up an evocative ambience picked out with crystal moments, bookending BOO’s latest outing with style and grace.
As ever, the duo also offer up handmade packaging (designed by the band) for the physical release of the album. It’s crafted to look and feel like a carefully studied and well-loved library book. It also comes with a 24-page booklet full of ominous symbols, cryptic diagrams and the multi-layered lyrics. The first 100 copies also come with a limited edition plastic ‘leatherette’ sleeve.
In our current troubled times, Yesterday Tomorrow and You offers an album packed with electronic charm and wit – the perfect escape from the Covid crisis.
Yesterday Tomorrow and You is out today.