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An Easy If Shiver-Inducing Intensity – “Of Tomorrow” from The Telescopes

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I’ve written nearly nine hundred pieces for Stereo Embers since 2010 or whenever it was (mists of time etc etc) and yet there are just three that I take a type of refuge behind for being both bulwarks against the prospect of certain failure and instances when clarity was so hard-won that there remain psychic abrasions that I carry as private little badges of honor to this day. One was The Telescopes’ As Light Returns in 2017 and the other two were the two that the ‘band’ followed it with in 2019 and 2021, Exploding Head Syndrome and Songs of Love and Revolution, respectively. As you no doubt already know those single quotation marks hovering on both ends of that B-word are necessary as  the word connotes a plurality of members when the fact is that no matter how many do or do not crowd into the studio to help give birth to the next album there is only one Telescope and that’s the renowned, enigmatic, unquestionably brilliant Stephen Lawrie, whose genius may indeed be ‘god-like’ but if so it is, to be honest, an odd god though also, we hastily add, a notably human one within which vulnerability, wonder, and a very deep well of curiosity all reside.

Still – and this is no rhetorical exaggeration – no one generally makes this task more of a challenge than Mr. Lawrie. Not so much because his work is often simultaneously opaque and piercing but precisely because his work is often both opaque and piercing. True, that’s a bit of a syntactical irony but again that’s sort of the point. To be asked to wrestle with such intriguing conundrums isn’t necessarily ‘what I signed up for’ but I’m not about to shy away from them when presented, especially when they’re as compelling as those The Telescopes tend to traffic in, bordering if not lapsing without hesitation into the sublime no matter how dense intense and sonically immense as they’ve inevitably been. And so, yes, here we find ourselves again and, after all you’ve just read, damned if there ain’t a kicker, a shift in the wind, as asterisk in the, umm, record book.

While Lawrie’s aim is essentially the same in that Of Tomorrow still pulses with its author’s dynamics, the results are decidedly less ‘Lawriesque’ insofar as that term (if it were one) has come to be defined in recent memory. While at a glance this might be attributable to the artist ginning up the entirety of this latest outing completely on his own in his Shropshire studio, the smarter bet from where we sit considering the source is the guy was just, basically and as ever, obeying his muse. Who knows for how long – weeks? Years? A couple hours? – but one of the impressions one might take from this record is one of release, as if the sound aching in Lawrie’s heart was this time intent on extracting itself from the shuddering-if-still-stunning miasma that has been a Telescopes trademark all this century at least. Not a ‘genius move’ aside from the bare fact that it’s a genius making a move (we very much doubt that Lawrie would strategize as such), it’s nonetheless a gorgeous one. Of Tomorrow unleashes gem after gem – seven in total – that further burnishes a reputation already so firmly established that if rested-upon laurels were a thing for him he’d have enough to hide behind forever. But of course they aren’t. He’s far too creatively restless for that which is another glowing indicator of the inveterate artist we’re talking about here. Not that we need it, mind. The work itself over the past forty years speaks its volume with nothing but corroborating force and this latest, because it’s so different and because it’s kind of not, really (talent is talent which is to say Lawrie is Lawrie), only furthers the case and does so, well, soundly. It’s worth noting, however, that if we’d not said all we just said the album’s first few bars might feasibly telegraph another more typical Telescopian opus but don’t let that great sludgy wall of mist expressed in musical terms fool you.

Amid the, to be sure, throbbing drone of opener “Butterfly”‘s arrival unfurls a sense of awakening, of the song title’s metaphorical subject perhaps but, more to the point, the singer’s fresh-for-now aesthetic, both of which hinge upon the – curious considering the sound surrounding it – insistence of not just a pop lean to the vocal melody but the track’s whole contents being delivered in a relatively tidy, almost unfussy package, its wrapper thick to the touch and a bit brocaded maybe but as a current-day Telescopes cut it’s no small revelation, one that persists throughout Of Tomorrow‘s six remaining tracks (only one, the powerhouse “(The Other Side)”, runs shy of the four-minute mark and it just barely while its mates stretch toward and past five). That it all works as alluringly as it does is of course no surprise. The hooks have always been there buried in those wonderful dungeons of sound but here they’re more surfaced, more unburied, they rill and thrill as they loosen themselves from the firmament.

“Everything Belongs” carries a dreamy lurch of rhythm pulling us through a delicately dense piano- and bass-based bramble that’s as inviting as any ‘scopes track we’ve heard in thirty years, the hypnotic “Where Do We Begin?”, murk and luminosity cozied up inside each other, finds us engaged by the paradox at its center – “Where does it end? / Where do we begin?” – as it guides us with sure, temperate steps through a really quite lovely desperation and speaking of lovely, “Only Lovers Know” beckons with a dazzling seen-it-all pathos that has us hearing a fevered blur of Hazlewood and Cohen even as we couldn’t say for certain that either would’ve made it out of the song alive and there’s side one all wrapped and done and it seems we’ve barely begun but then again there it is: things we love go by too fast, a fact confirmed come side two and, don’t doubt it, Lawrie the classicist delineates a side one and two even on the CD. Past the aforementioned – and cheekily slotted – “(The Other Side)” we slide into the haunted shadow and profound hush of “Under Starlight” that lures us further into a prayerful JAMC-like trance than the brothers themselves have dared venture in decades before being led into the sprawling meditative “Down By The Sea,” a song that, in its eight-plus minutes, wends through a landscape that manages to wed the lush to the arid and in so doing transfixes. Half static half ecstasy, exotic in its reserve, generous in its ambience, the track, quite simply, transports. By its nature evaporative it clings to you regardless, that fleeting dream you had slowed down enough to live it but even then its mysteries elude. It is, to say the least, a track you won’t soon shake.

So, look. We are always always always bowled straight fucking over by Telescopes records but none prepared us for this. Imbued with an easy if shiver-inducing intensity, this is a long dark night of the soul dragged blinking and reluctant into the parching sunlight of a mortal afternoon and finding it not only survives but thrives. We rather reckon that that force might soon draw itself back into its more familiar environs, swallowed anew inside those famous canyons but in the meantime, my god (and once again), what a ridiculously great record.

[get Of Tomorrow TODAY! from Tapete Records here]