PVT – Church With No Magic (Warp/Inertia)

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This third album ‘Church With No Magic’ (their second for Warp) manages to mark a period of considerable change for PVT (formerly Pivot), who were recently forced to omit their vowels when a US band of the same moniker laid legal claim to the name. In the ensuing two years since 2008’s ‘O Soundtrack My Heart’, they’ve certainly seen their international profile grow considerably, thanks to both the Warp Records connection and a reputation for impressive live shows, an example being their involvement in 2009’s Brian Eno-curated ‘Luminous’ festival in Sydney. While I have to confess that I thought the London / Sydney-based trio of Lawrence Pike, Richard Pike and Dave Miller a curious choice of support for Gary Numan on his recent Australian tour at the time, in retrospect after listening to this album, it’s something that makes perfect sense. Indeed, the ten tracks collected here see PVT undertaking a definite stylistic left turn away from their previous work, embracing the sorts of vast cold synth-scapes, echoing drums and harsh, angular post-punk elements that you’d associate with the likes of the aforementioned Numan, PIL, Ultravox and even at points, Joy Division. It’s a tangible shift in style that’s likely to take some longtime PVT fans off-guard upon first listening, with the significantly increased presence of Richard Pike’s vocals hinting at moody New Romantic terrain at points.

After instrumental intro ‘Community’ opens proceedings with a wash of ambient choral-style vocal harmonies and burbling, Jarre-esque synth arpeggios, ‘Crimson Swan’ sees things shifting down into moody, slowburning post-punk territory, as Pike’s vaguely David Sylvian-esque vocal tones drifting out over a woozy backdrop of swirling analogue synth pads and echoing, tribal drums in a moment that suggests Neu!’s motorik glide as much as it does the atmosphere of mid-period Japan. Elsewhere, ‘Timeless’ sees Pike’s crooning multi-tracked vocals stretching out over fluttering, Cluster-esque machine rhythms and warm analogue synths in a moment that hints at early Depeche Mode gone Krautrock, in what’s easily one of this album’s most rhythmically propulsive and shimmering moments, before title track ‘Church With No Magic’ brings on the distorted post-punk crunch, as icy synths trail beneath distorted, echoing live drums and fat, fuzzed out bass bursts, Pike’s cut-up vocals battling for space with sudden DSP tears and rips. If anything, the latter track sees PVT hinting at the sorts of moody New Romantic meets post-punk territory explored by Ultravox and early Simple Minds, an indication of just how much the trio have reconfigured their approach here compared to previous records. It proves to be evocative stuff that reveals considerable new detail with each ensuing listen, and openminded PVT fans will certainly be glad that they came along for the ride.

Chris Downton

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