The “psych indie rock” genre is one of the most saturated markets out there. A plethora of artists in this area come and go, all with a similar musical framework and execution. On their debut album, London-based quintet Bonfire Nights don’t stoop to genre conventions – their “walls of sound” aren’t just cacophonous layers of distorted, effect-soaked guitars. They’re crafted with thought; resulting in instrumentation and frequencies that feel purposeful and not forcefully injected to cheaply bulk the sound.
The record, as a whole, carries an intriguing aesthetic. Sci-fi connotations are palpable throughout, forming the aura of multiple tracks, similar to Black Mountain and their album ‘IV’ released earlier this year. The appropriately named ‘Mesmer Isles’ is seemingly inspired by physician and keen astronomer Franz Mesmer, also evident in the instrumentation. Reverberating synth arpeggios and melodies paint an elaborate cosmic picture whilst Steve Foster’s ethereal vocals glide above.
Male-female vocal harmonies are part of their unique sound and are utilised throughout. The vocals in lead single and opener ‘Easy Touch’ add an extra layer of subtle ethereality to the already melodic, laid-back instrumentation. Likewise, in ‘Low’, they’re at their most effective when the instrumentation is subtle and stripped down, allowing greater vocal prominence. Beginning like a Black Angels track, a subtle guitar rhythm forms the backbone as the male-female vocal harmonies create a satisfying partnership. Certain Eastern influences are present in this cut, as evidenced in the manic, twangy guitar instrumentals.
Bonfire Nights aren’t afraid to drop the subtleties in favour of more all-out, energetic tracks. Appearing mid-tracklist, ‘Ego Death’ & ‘Bo Diddley Did Me’ are loud blasts sandwiched in between more controlled and intermittent cuts. The latter, with its menacing phased guitar refrain and eerie keys showcase the band’s wilder, manic character.
Penultimate instrumental track ‘Signal Failure’ signifies a perception of loneliness and feeling lost, perhaps a reflection of the band’s relocation to the UK from Australia. Its sparse and cold synth lead echoes, with eerie ambient sounds of faint whispers and train announcements that are found within the London Underground. Foster speaks of “two worlds colliding” in closing cut ‘Crossing the Wires’, perhaps the most accurate demonstration of the band’s balance of subtle and explosive traits.
‘Entopica Phenomica’ is certainly a dense first offering, with deeply personal underlying themes. The band manage to swerve overused genre conventions to create interesting, multi-layered pieces that are best enjoyed after a few listens. This record should not be taken on surface level; it is once you dig deeper and dissect that you will appreciate the clear thought and attention that went into what is a commendable and cohesive debut record.
Essential tracks: Easy Touch // Mesmer Isles // Low