Our Daily Bread 359: The Van Allen Belt ‘Let It Goddam Be’

January 8, 2020

Words: Dominic Valvona

The Van Allen Belt  ‘Let It Goddam Be’
LP/23rd December 2019

To say that there’s been a one hell of a shitstorm of discourse and divisive upset in the period between this and the last LP from the musically omnivorous devouring Pittsburg collective The Van Allen Belt, would be an understatement. In that near five-year period of absence (release wise anyway) the trip-hoping psychedelic cinematic fantasists have a new president elect to wrestle with as they gaze out across a broken, hostile landscape of nationalism and wokeism. Saving up an incandescent rage and vitriol, the Van Allen’s unload the angst and anxious plaint on their first longplayer release since the beatific meandrous 2015 album, Heaven On A Branch (which rightly made our choice albums of that year).

With a Western style bent and playful pun-intended embrace, Let It Goddam Be raids the record collection of influences to build a sophisticated collage of dramatic and filmic soundtrack protestation. Stopping short of pastiche or aping those influences, chief instigator Benjamin Ferris and his vocal foil Tamar Kamin bend and shape familiar genres and sounds to their will. They even rope in the cult jazz and progressive experimentalist Bruno Spoerri (so cult that even those crate-digger cult worshippers of the obscure, Finders Keepers, even released a compilation of his maverick musings) to play on a homage to his own visionary entrancing renderings (albeit via the brooding visage of Eno & Bowie and the suffused wafting saxophone caresses of The Cosmic Range); the vaporous instrumental passage ‘Christine Versions’. Spoerri also partakes on the opening Western themed ‘Peace Don’t Stand A Chance’ epic; a Link Wray embossed mosey that wrangles a loose lasso around Morricone, Unloved and The Plastic Ono Band. A meta transformation of the Sergio Leone template, amped up on a tripsy embittered protest march, this opening throw-down (literally with foley sound effects) strikes a match off a tough leathery cowboy boot and sets in motion a flaming pyre of grievances. On an album of guest spots, it even features a Deadwood Swearingen (Cheyenne) on violin alongside the Lynchian inspired guitarist Kirk Salopek on tremolo wane duties.

The next mini-opus, ‘Lucky After Dark’, takes a signature Supremes tambourine rattling backbeat on a detour through the dreamy Gothic and Acid Jazz (Morcheeba in the subterranean), and the even grander title-track churns Moloko, Sparks and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah into a kooky riling symphony. Regular Van Allen extended cast member Tom Altes is back on bass for the ditsy ‘You’ve Heard It All Before’; a track that manages to both evoke Billie Holiday and The Sneaker Pimps simultaneously. But rounding the wagon circle is the closing Western cinematic ‘143’; a Biblical film score gone astray and transmogrified by DJ Shadow and the 5th Dimension.

Assured quality, with Tamar’s idiosyncratic vocal fluctuations (from deeper earthy tones to aria and untethered swirls) as engaging and free-floating as ever, the production multilayered and ever more sophisticated, The Van Allen Belt’s short, but certainly not scrimping on depth, new album finishes all too soon. It’s great to have them back. The musical landscape looks a lot brighter and better in 2020 with them back on board making complex, cerebral pop musical statements.

Dominic Valvona


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