by Chris Familton
PVT have seemingly been a band in transition for their last couple of albums. Primarily that sense of flux has arisen from the necessity of a name change to avoid conflict with another Pivot and also due to the nature of the evolution of their songwriting and the increased focus on the vocals of Richard Pike, one of the defining aspects, for better or worse, of their new album Homosapien.
In the past the trio’s music has felt like an electronic landscape rotating around and circling the superb drumming ability of Laurence Pike. The overwhelming traits of their earlier albums drew from post rock, acid jazz and clinical breakbeat electronic music so the shift to a more cohesive focus on music made by synths, sequencers and digital effects makes for a more uniquely PVT sounding record.
Pike is still a driving force behind the kit but here his playing sits more comfortably with its surrounding tech accompaniment. His drums sound less beaten by the human hand and more cybernetic and futuristic. It isn’t until the third track Electric where we hear the first real semblance of an acoustic kit. The song (and its neighbour Cold Romance) are two of the album’s highlights, offering up a dark, brooding mood broken up by serrated synth runs and unsettling backing vocals. It brings to mind some of the more subtle highlights of Depeche Mode’s discography as it battles pop and the avant-garde with a retro futurist palette.
Richard Pike’s vocals give the album a human angle for the listener to grab hold of but his isn’t the most exciting or memorable of voices. It tends to switch between styles which blurs the personality behind the notes and words. Love & Defeat places him as an 80s crooner in the vein of Iva Davies (Icehouse) while the title track sees his voice chopped and treated like a sampled sound. On Casual Success Pike is a dead ringer for The Rapture or James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and combined with the other stylistic vagaries the end result is quite a disjointed listening experience that never seems to gather momentum or a thematic impetus.
Any criticism of the vocal aspect of PVT’s music should be tempered by the fact that musically this is their most accomplished release. The way they manipulate mood and tension is a reflection of their maturity and ability to capture and filter their influences. The extremes on Homosapien, from the bleep and clatter of Nightfall to the pseudo ambient closer Ziggurat and everything in between shows range and ambition which should be applauded alongside the mixing of the album by Ben Hillier who has worked with Depeche Mode, Doves and Elbow.
In their efforts to hit the intersection point between Grizzly Bear, Radiohead and the sound of many artists that appear on the Warp label, PVT have made an accomplished album but one that has a strangely vacant core. It doesn’t create emotional attachment or any particular peaks that will have the listener enthusing to friends about its wow factor. Homosapien may take its name from a term used to describe modern man but in this case it is half man, half machine, deprogrammed of its heart and soul.
this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz