An ever-more-refined PVT.
Originally from Sydney, PVT have a sound that is instantly recognisable, a synergy of electronic/rock/jazz sounds, textures and structures. New Spirit, their fifth album, is the most refined and concise statement they have made to date. Living in Sydney in the mid-2000s, I always felt that, in terms of popular music, PVT were the best thing we had to offer. They probably still are (although they now reside at different locations all over the globe). PVT is certainly the Australian band that I have listened to the most, and a new collection of their musical creations – characteristically intense but accessible, heavy but agile, inviting repeat listenings (and dancings) – is something to be looked forward to, digested over many months, learned from, shared, treasured.
New Spirit is the third album where Richard Pike sings (the first two albums from the band were instrumental). In many ways this is R. Pike’s album, his most self-assured and centre-stage release. Perhaps this impression is the product of the overall spaciousness that defines the album. At the same time, there are a few tracks, such as Murder Mall, that have a lot more lyrical content than has ever appeared in a PVT song. At the album launch in Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria I also noticed that the band seem to have simplified their live performance set up, with R. Pike playing less bass and electric guitar and concentrating more on singing. He had a great sort of New Romantics outfit, too.
Lawrence Pike’s drumming – I can still remember the first time I heard it, listening to the early PVT track Montecore on Triple J radio – is a huge part of what makes this band work. On New Spirit L. Pike is at his best. I’m not a drummer, so I can’t exactly articulate what it is that he does that is so wonderful. But, for starters, there’s something about the way he plays certain fills (rhythmic patterns that ‘fill’ the end of musical phrases in many types of popular music) that gives the music so much forward momentum and poise. This signature was actually more apparent on the band’s earlier music. By this stage of his career Pike has molded and refined his style to such an enlightened state that he actually plays less on this album, but it sounds more like him than ever before.
Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend is one of the most memorable tracks on New Spirit. A skipping two-note synth motif runs across the song, elongating, darkening, turning to staccato. R. Pike’s voice is treated with a lower harmony effect that gives a menacing quality to the lyrics – ‘all good things come to an end…’ As his voice climbs higher a slightly cleaner version of this possessed doubling emerges. I love these finer points to the production, and this album abounds with such details. The dynamic Kangaroo and the ‘vinyl only’ track War Dance are another two of my favourites, the latter’s percussive aggression and four-on-the-floor bass drum in a way ‘setting off’ the lighter-toned pieces that surround it.
As a whole, I feel like New Spirit is the brightest, most spacious and detailed album PVT have released. The proggy energy of their earliest instrumental albums, and the heaviness and darkness that shone through so brilliantly on 2010’s Church With No Magic (the album I consider to be their best) has been mostly balanced out. I could certainly have listened to more tracks from the sessions that produced these twelve pieces, but then again, it’s always good to be left wanting more.
Listening to New Spirit on vinyl, one thinks – it doesn’t get much better than this. PVT are Australia’s best electro-rock band, and this album is just another reason why.