Aaron Hemphill performs and records music with the band Liars. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he moved to New York after meeting fellow bandmate Angus Andrews, and lived there for about five years. He now lives in Berlin.
The Legendary Pink Dots’ 2010 album Seconds Late for the Brighton Line was the first album I ever pre-ordered online. The package I ordered included the limited-edition double LP as well as my choice of two LPD t-shirts. I literally listened to the Legendary Pink Dots album while wearing my brand-new Legendary Pink Dots t-shirt, so if you’re hoping for an unbiased and challenging take on The Gethsemane Option, you will be disappointed.
Seconds Late for the Brighton Line, a double LP of some of their catchiest, most adventurous material to date, was one of the best albums of 2010. I was in awe of the band’s seemingly inexhaustible creative energy. This is a band that, if I were forced to recommend an album for a newcomer to start with, had just made their newest album good enough to be my choice.
How often does that happen? How does a band so prolific keep up the pace and maintain such purity and quality? Take any of the bands you consider to be your favorite and ask if their last three records honestly stack up to the earlier material you fell in love with. Plutonium Blonde (2008), Seconds Late…, and now, The Gethsemane Option are just as fresh and vital to my ears as Brighter Now (1982), Only Dreaming (1981) and Curse (1983).
The Gethsemane Option continues in the immaculately produced, largely electronic direction as explored on Plutonium Blonde and Seconds Late… I would have to say that The Gethsemane Option is the darkest album of those three, and its contents are packaged in the most intense cover as well. The album’s seven songs unfold slowly, and the structures are advanced and subtle. Carefully placed electronic sounds mark the coming of a new verse or repeat softly to elevate the ending of a track into an unexpected crescendo. I had to rewind tracks because I couldn’t recall how the songs arrived at their endings structurally. It’s an album that will require a few listens, but I find it more and more rewarding each time. At first listen it was easy to appreciate singer-keyboardist Edward Ka-Spel’s eerie spoken word delivery on “Pendulum,” the 11-minute centerpiece of this album. However on subsequent listens, the arrangement and pacing of the delicate second half of the track become more demanding of attention.
Most tracks on this album ditch any sort of traditional song structure, in favor of a straight-line journey through a highly detailed world or story. This, by all means, does not imply that these songs are improvised or even loosely arranged. In fact, they sound like every sound was painstakingly placed in a structure that utilizes the sparse instrumentation in a way where each new sound makes a huge impact without interrupting the quiet repetition. Think of each song as a tightly made bed, smooth and solid in color. Now lay five or six marbles in a carefully planned pattern. Each marble not only sticks out, it also creates an indentation in the sheet where shadows collect and ripples intersect.
I must admit that The Gethsemane Option is not an easy record to digest, but it is extremely rewarding once you find your handle on it. It is a record from a band that follows their hearts and minds in their own direction, and at their own pace. The Legendary Pink Dots are one of my favorite bands in the world, and after all these years, I’m still so excited to hear where they go to next.