On the delicately expanding ‘Shiver’, the opener to PVT’s fourth studio album, the vocals of Richard Pike are – at first – shrouded in digital fog.
As the looping, arpeggiated keyboard motif circles Pike’s treated vocal, the backdrop of dextrous rhythmic folds and pillowed synths builds, before his trembling croon becomes recognisably human.
‘Shiver’ is both scene-setter and microcosm for the Sydney-via-London’s latest, Homosapien, which as its title suggests, places Pike’s singing front-and-centre alongside working less to an experimental freedom and more to a disciplined pop sensibility.
The antique futurism of ‘Evolution’ and ‘Love & Defeat’ prioritise melody and simplicity but still have fragmented rhythmic loops and dystopic keyboards at the heart of their sonic landscapes.
Shoring back much of the caustic synths and prog-like mutations of 2010 predecessor Church With No Magic isn’t always a calculated risk though. Unfortunately not all the melodies or lyrics prioritised are strong enough to do the heavy lifting.
‘Electric’ starts promisingly, with loping synthetic bass and one of Laurence Pike’s patented drum shuffles – but soon becomes complacent in its search for a sense of danger as Pike drones ‘I am electric‘ – sounding anything but.
When Homosapien hits its stride however, the steely pulses and thrilling trances of their previous output aren’t absent, but instead the Pike Bros. and sound-wrangler Dave Miller hardwire that same digital palette into accomplished new directions.
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The warbling synths and jittery hi-hat of ‘Cold Romance’ is intoxicating, while the slinky ‘Vertigo’ sands down their angular, colder edge from a growl to a sexy purr, and ‘Nightfall’ provides another deceptively tricky balancing act, between an ominous Space Invaders loop and a warm, yearning chorus of “you want me/I’m yours.”
It’s a record of mixed achievements, but ensures that while PVT’s ongoing metamorphosis isn’t always beautiful, its consistently, admirably brave.
PVT are touring through Australia in March, full dates and details here.