Space Cat Go
In 2019, Spray’s album Failure Is Inevitable was one of our albums of the year, in which we summed it up as “sharp, polished electronic pop”. At the same time, the album was bursting with the wit and social commentary that Spray have excelled at across their extensive musical career.
The bar was set quite high then for any potential follow-up, leading sibling duo Jenny McLaren (vocals, guitars) and Ricardo Autobahn (synths) to really knuckle down to come up with something of equal quality.
Their 2020 EP Offerings From The Algorithm (see TEC review) provided a nice stopgap before their latest studio album finally arrived this year. The intriguingly-named Ambiguous Poems About Death is certainly an album that delivers on all fronts. You get the euphoric pop and the wry humour that you expect, but Spray always somehow manage to keep it fresh and engaging.
The new album’s origins were drafted up together with some new gear purchases for Team Spray. “In early 2020 we bought a Behringer TD-3, one of the company’s excellent Roland TB-303 knockoffs. We had an idea of putting out a quick acid house-style album in the summer, something short, spiky and electropunk. This did not come to fruition as like many, Spray found themselves locked down in separate locations.”
Ambiguous Poems About Death throws out a smattering of social commentary, particularly via the COVID-inspired ‘Hammered In an Airport’ and ‘We’ll Look Back On This And Laugh’. Elsewhere, there’s lyrical narratives on public figures, dysfunctional relationships and space cats or, as the duo describe it, “Spray’s tried and tested formula of overblown escapism.”
Album opener ‘Blurred in the Background’ is a witty zinger of a track whose lyrics allude to those people less keen on having their faces front and centre. The track is suitably layered in washes of echo giving it a gauzy vibe.
‘Félicette (Space Cat)’ is, unsurprisingly, one of the album’s highlights. The song’s intriguing inspiration aside (Jenny discovered the story of Félicette – the first cat in space – while reading the story on the back of a wine bottle), it’s a catchy slice of synth-pop regardless. Spray’s knack for synth hooks kicks this tune into high gear against a charming little lyrical narrative.
The squelchy disco of ‘Hammered In an Airport’ takes a different approach with Jenny adopting a spoken monologue (a kind of synth-pop Faithless, if you will). Here, some odd lyrical couplets are delivered (“We should have cheesecake/We should have heartbreak”) against a deep musical groove. Another standout track is the evocative ‘The Big Idea’, simply down to its cleverly constructed vocal melody.
If there’s one composition that’s going to really resonate with Spray’s contemporaries, however, it’s the oblique ‘Enough of the Small Talk, Where’s My Money?’ The song’s strident rhythms are the perfect accompaniment to the acerbic lyrics (“There’s the cash point over there/Enough of the small talk, where’s my money?”).
It also wouldn’t be a Spray album without some commentary on relationships gone wrong. On that basis, the soft synths of ‘Douche Canoe’ provides a list of culturally specific annoyances that most people can relate to (“You spent the week organising your Zoom bookshelves”).
Outside of that, the album provides plenty of other good material to dig into, including the choppy ‘Mindless Insincere Ooze’ or the more ethereal ‘It’s an All Skate’.
Ambiguous Poems About Death has a softer aspect compared to Spray’s previous entries, indicating perhaps a more mature approach to the pop duo. At the same time, the clever commentary and sharp wit remains present and correct.
Ambiguous Poems About Death is out now: https://spray.bandcamp.com/album/ambiguous-poems-about-death
Spray will be live at Aatma, Manchester 25th March 2022 with Factory Acts and Rodney Cromwell in support: https://www.facebook.com/events/232490702237141