Waiting For The Bomb by Allen RavenstineRelease date: June 29, 2018
Label: ReR Megacorp
Allen Ravenstine is a legitimate musical cult hero with an off kilter story to match. Bringing modular synthesis and musique concrete into the avant garage of Pere Ubu, Ravenstine’s synths weave and wail through their legendary run of late 70’s and 80’s albums. He made his final appearance with them in ’91 having already left the band to become a commercial airline pilot. Busy flying planes he left music behind for a couple of decades but a few years back made a couple of albums with Ubu’s late period synth wizard Robert Wheeler. Waiting For The Bomb is a new solo record of atmospheric instrumentals and a pleasingly unexpected turn of events all around.
Considering his pedigree Ravenstine could be forgiven for dishing out a nostalgic suite of analogue synth fetishism, lord knows there’s a thirsty market for that sort of thing, but this isn’t it. Likewise any similarities to Pere Ubu’s knotted art-punk lie obscured in approach or conception rather than in the actual tunes themselves. Opener ‘Sentimental Duet’ is a piece of relaxed jazz that creates a sweet mid-century mood, the flowing trumpet turning to some throaty baffle in the second half. Surely he hasn’t made an airport lounge piano jazz album? No indeed, the title track comes in on ticking mechanical anxiety, radio burbles behind strings and trumpets, waves of synth noise roar overhead, panic sweeps through the airport. There’s a hint of those flying devil monkeys from The Wizard Of Oz about it. The stiff rhythm and bright dramatic strings of ‘The Ladies In The Garden’ gives way to hint of fairground swirl. ‘The Bombay Tar’ brings Indian flourishes, hand percussion and ersatz sitar to the mix. We’re only about ten minutes in and we’re already all over the map. It’s like a jumbled set of sonic postcards. ‘Into The Ether’ unfolds out of a scrambled radio collage, ‘Day Shift’ is thumping dancefloor weirdness spattered with ugly widdly guitar lines and anxiety building synths on the verge of becoming a chorus of alarms.
For such an odd record it’s surprisingly seductive. The fast changing pace of styles and sounds settles down a little and the elements reappear and recombine in different ways, there are threads and echoes that seem to suggest oblique connections. It has you wondering is it a travelogue? A soundtrack? Is there a narrative thread joining this together? Waiting For The Bomb is a pretty ominous title, lightened somewhat by the cover art, an old New Yorker cartoon of a marine painting ‘so sorry’ on the side of a bomb. The spooky unease of ‘Spirits’ is followed by ‘Insomnia’ which is reminiscent of Moondog and ‘Bump In The Night’ which pounds and echoes in appropriately sinister fashion. The trio of titles hint at a story unfolding as does the episodic nature of the record generally. Ravenstine does not foreground any such reading although it’s possible they form a sort of autobiography. Steeped in a blend of cold war paranoia and space race possibility Waiting For The Bomb presents a supremely evocative set of cinematic miniatures, each one charming and individual but teeming with remarkable details on closer listens.