Brighton’s Wax Machine are a band who thrive on drift. Sometimes cosmic, often psychedelic and frequently exotic, they float between the warming thrill of tropicalia and the misty chill of nu-folk without losing direction. Revolving around the restless creativity of Brazilian born song-writer/guitarist Lau Ro, this most fluid combo have just released their third album via Batov Records, the cryptically named ‘The Sky Unfurls, The Dance Goes On’. So what’s to tell?
Whereas their debut ‘Earthsong of Silence’ stirred up Harvest-era folkadelica and krautrock clarity within a prog mindset and last year’s ‘Hermit’s Grove’ drew further on Lau Ro’s heritage with a sun – soaked fusion of psych-toned bosa and lush indie, ‘The Sky Unfurls, The Dance Goes On’ seems to plunge further into their whirlpool of influences without a particular destination in sight. It’s a record that sees Wax Machine trusting more to instinct, making room for the improv while channelling an open-minded, Don Cherry spirit. Though they remain comfortable in their layered lo-fi pop garb, this is certainly an album that may surprise those aligned to one or other of their previous comparisons.
‘The Sky Unfurls…’ does begin in a pretty familiar Wax Machine hemisphere with Wild, the jangling acoustic and trilling guitar fills wafting through a lush laconic space similar to Cosmic Wheels era Donovan. The soft as whispers harmonies seem to levitate around this gorgeous West Coast shuffle, musing as only Lau Ro can about ‘touching the sky’ and getting ‘kissed by the sun’ while making it sound fresh and heartfelt. Similarly the sparkling Glimmers glances back to Wax Machine’s effortless pop immediacy. The sprightly vocal pairing of Lau Ro with band buddy Isobel Jones, a folky double bass twang and an unflustered Seu Jorge momentum seeing the song Stereolab gleefully along. There are chuckles and light-touch slide-guitaring but an uneasy sense of something beyond quirky simmering elsewhere in the mix.
That more expansive range on ‘The Sky Unfurls, The Dance Goes On’ connects directly to the inspirational roots of the album. A time spent travelling, back to his Brazilian homeland for the first time in 20years then detouring around the Pyrenees to get lost in the vast panoramas, has obviously had an impact on Lau Ro, one that has powered the creative drive and abandon of their new music. The sonic freedom of spiritual jazz nourishes the calm expansion of Bloom as it stretches out under no particular pressure to deliver. A lithesome acoustic bassline, glowing electric piano highlights and Isobel Jones aerobatic flute define the Pharoah Sanders vibes. Somehow the song eventually finds itself in a shoegaze pond of harmonics, unexpected yes but unimaginative no, that’s never on the Wax Machine agenda this time around.
Even the quieter moments on the album could not have been predicted in their shape or form. Memories has Adam Campbell’s sensitive piano as a platform for sombre soothing melodies in a shimmering instrumental ballad. Then there’s Sister, a piece of tingling avant pop expressionism, all Tom Ze curveballs, minor chords and blissful reflections. Amongst all this unhurried meandering perhaps River stands out as the most ambitious slice of Wax Machine abandon on ‘The Sky unfurls…’. Structurally complex but cleverly coherent, the song travels from Syd folk delicacy to cello beckoning Canterbury prog and then home to the elegancy of smooth bossa jazz. It’s perhaps the most fully realised accomplishment here, so good that the new age poetics nestle in comfortably.
Wax Machine albums have never been easy to compartmentalise and ‘The Sky Unfurls, The Dance Goes On’ may be even more illusive than usual. The album has that same wonderful messiness that energised those classic seventies Spirit records. In the atmospheric cosmic mantra of White Nile, the plaintive guitar strummed ambient country of Moonstone and the shattered electronic shards of Transmission you find Lau Ro and companions spontaneously moving on and in the process moving up. As the album closes there’s the sense that here is a journey waiting to be continued but until then ‘‘The Sky Unfurls; The Dance Goes On’ stands as an impressive resting place.
Get your copy of ‘The Sky Unfurls, The Dance Goes On‘ by Wax Machine from your local record store or direct from Batov Records HERE
Up coming UK Live Dates
14th Nov – The Shacklewell Arms, London TICKETS
19th Nov – Alphabet, Brighton TICKETS