ALBUM REVIEW: The Galaxy Electric – ‘Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday’: a real trip into raw retrotronic deep space

HUSBAND and wife team Augustus and Jacqueline know that yesterday’s tomorrow was better; deep in their time-travelling hearts, they know. And you’d be hard-pushed to disagree.

Together they make “cosmic tape music”, taking that heady blend of sci-fi as it used to be, the 60s’ electronica experimentation of visionaries like Pierre Henry and Mort Garson, and create the music we should be hearing to watch Earthrise over our glorious pods, minimally decorated with beautiful snow-white spherical furniture: because, let’s face the facts, that was a better future than today’s.

And they had a further vision: back in August we were delighted here at Backseat Mafia to be invited to premiere a short montage film they’d put together to tease us for the new album, Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday.

The short film blended teasers of the new album into acid genius, with imagery crafted by Italian video artist Michelle Pan. They said: “It’s a retro sci-fi acid trip – and hopefully a pleasant one!” (You can watch the premiere here).

But that wasn’t all, you see: they’d spent a year committing deep wells of sound to tape, both cassette and reel-to-reel; the eureka moment was that any album recorded to magnetic tape needed to find its place out in the world, finished, on that self-same format. Thus the premiere also launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a reel-to-release of the new album.

They say: “This is the first album we have ever recorded that was fully and completely improvised. We recorded to quarter-inch analog tape without any digital recording magic – overdubs, edits, tuning, etc. 

“We spent a year practising this new improvisational style before we turned on the tape machine. But once we did, we recorded every day for a month.

“And when we listened back we realized we had created a space age fantasy album with an incredible story; a soundtrack to a time-traveling space voyage.

“In order to honor the recording process of this album we knew we had to find a way to release it on reel to-reel tape with the most amazing artwork and packaging – to create a unique collector’s item worthy of the voyage.”

You scoff? Scoff away. They did it, and with ease. They found their like minds, the souls out there who adored the format, had players, wanted material; they raised into five figures of pledges with ease. Now they not only have a community, but a fine space-age album to feed it. And, they say: “With the help of Dead Media Tapes, we will be able to do just that!”

Oh, for those of us as yet novitiate in reel-to-reel, the audiophile of the distant future-past’s choice; Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday will also be available on, ahem, whisper, ssssh, digital, as well on CD and double-coloured vinyl: one disc orange, one blue.

But we must whisk toward the airlock; the sky is beginning to bruise. “Stage One (Exposure)” is where we begin; in which Jacqueline drapes her otherworldly, offwordly cadences across radio crosstalk and modular synth chatter – with an edge. You can tell no zeros or ones have been allowed near this; it has a dirty edge that’s prepossessing, the grime of deep space. Exposure: an unsettlingly 2020 concept. But we’re in safer hands here, a course has at least been set.

It blurs into the title track, the manifesto laid out in rayon sheen; generative faux-flutes grace popping percussion interjections in a manner you may have last heard on The Human League’s “Being Boiled”. It’s eerie, graceful, woos you, dislocates you. Over here, us Brits may have been well blessed with retro-futurist genii such as Broadcast, Pram, Gwenno; but what sets The Galaxy Electric in a different orbit is that lunar flare of edginess in the pure, unsanitised analogue. Maybe only Add N To (X) have veered close in recent decades.

“Stage Two (Re-Entry)” begins in a partly mechanised reel and skitter of percussion, with Jacqueline singing, draped in echo … somewhere, riddling away with grace. As it builds, it feels like she is seized and swirled away into the vortex of sustained siren song. “I don’t know if it even matters / I don’t know what matters means …” she intones. It’s a maelstrom of knife-edge retrotronic creativity. And if that wasn’t trippy enough, then “Trippingly We Must Go”, the coda, will finally sweep your fingers from their tenuous grip on the edge of the normal.

“S.O.S” is a thrilling essay into an eerily slippery soundscape; an offworld more slick mud than dust. Time is marked by a marching pulse. You can only but conceive of Augustus as partly rebuilt in stainless steel; “Time Slipping” a beautiful Mellotronesque melody that builds and whirrs, the drums splitting in stereophonic effect. The brief, sub-two minute sketches “Transmission Fini” and “Reality In Theory” are, by turns, dream-state sun-bright and deliciously panning and skeletal.

At seven minutes plus, “Gravitational Collapse” sits obsidian in the heart of Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday as the monolith does in 2001: A Space Odyssey; it begins with the zuzz and hum of some cyberhornet you’d be glad only to meet in sound, for sure. Patterns of percussion roam. You can hear the track’s improvisational roots in the way the soundscape morphs, slides, buckles, sweeps past. The element of chance is herein; Jacqueline is out there, intoning in some trance of ecstasy. You’re deep in, now, proper psych-trancing like Brainticket really decided to spin your head out. “Life On Planet Zorb” is, just subtly, an opening in the storm, with sharp-edged bass tones propelling a choral vocal lilt.

“How High” gently mellows the scene further while losing none of that alien yaw and keeps that same trancey vocal quality; by the bleed into “Endless Journey” an ocean swell gives succour and the bpm unwinds. You feel, by now, as if you’ve somehow been let go by sonic forces beyond your ken.

“Power Trip” is the most Broadcast-like of the set so far, but although born of the same stock, has a much more – what, punk feel in its swirl. The much-missed Trish Keenan once posited that Broadcast’s ideal milieu was the music for the Eloi house party; perhaps The Galaxy Electric speak of a darker simmer, a rawer force arising, with the Morgoths.

“Surfing On Soft Rays” odysseys on a come and go of generative aural force and has a more open, meditative mantra; sounds sweep by like comets, Jacqueline an unfolding constant, her melody gradually opening out, drawing new notes in. 

The album concludes in the recent single drop, “Destination Omega”: we’ve embedded this down at the end for you to burrow into. It almost allows for a pulsing galaxial pop groove, Jacqueline vamping in free time, “You never know where you will end up” over classic Moogery with little touches of the Radiophonic Workshop, little hints of Lucia Pamela. It begins to fade out into pops and bells, and concludes suddenly, almost mid-beat, leaving you shaking your head as you awake from … a dream?

If you buy the album digitally, you get two bonus cuts in “Crystalline Glow” and “Mirrors of Infinity”, just one more quick orbit before touchdown; these of course come bundled as a download with other physical purchases.

It’s a hell of a trip, is Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday: a hell of a trip. Here at Backseat Mafia, we adore Gwenno and Broadcast and the like, of course we do, it’s a given; our friendship with you is predicated on you being of the same mind.

What sets The Galaxy Electric on full warp drive elsewhere is an absolute willingness to get down and dirty, really give vent to the topospheres they find out there, in inner sonic space. It has a real punk edge, this album, in certain raw aesthetic applications. It has a very, very deep psychedelic edge; even The United States of America didn’t travel far this far for this length of listening time. And it also has a jazz edge; the way some of the soundscapes blur and evolve and layer speak of the urgency of Coltrane and Sun Ra; and there’s also, if you’re a real crate-digger like me, just a smattering of the eerie, dislocated lounge quality of Rhode Island’s Combustible Edison, the long-lost Sub Pop band.

If you need a route offworld so you can look at back at humankind from a safe distance in the corona of the galaxy’s beauty, and you’re also not afraid to ride the edge of the solar winds, Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday is likely the record for you.

The Galaxy Electric’s Tomorrow Was Better Yesterday will be released on digital stream, CD, 2xLP, and reel-to-reel magnetic tape on October 22nd; pre-sales are being taken now at the band’s shop, where various merch bundles may also be availed.

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