The Shortwave Set - Replica Sun Machine

You have to admire the man-hours Danger Mouse has put into arranging and producing ‘Replica Sun Machine’.

Label: Wall Of Sound

Rating: 8

Psychedelic indie poppers The Shortwave Set return from the wilderness of being dropped by their label with their second album, ‘Replica Sun Machine’. Although their debut album ‘The Debt Collection’ (2005) received awed reviews and high star ratings, it did not shift units. The south London trio found without a record deal and back to the hustle of being an unsigned band. Fortunately, one of the few people to buy their debut was neo-funkster Danger Mouse, who produced this sophomore effort.

‘Replica Sun Machine’ could have been unearthed from a time capsule alongside ‘The White Album’, as crisp guitars and psychedelic instrumentation support mellifluous vocal lines. Throughout, there is a portentous preoccupation with the sinister machinery of the album’s title. Such pre-apocalyptic conspiracy theorising might be expected on, say, a Kula Shaker album, and here it is no less affected. But it unifies the album with one concept, especially as many of the tracks are mixed together.

This 11-track album opens with sitar-flecked ‘Harmonia’, a song so understated it almost urges the listener to go elsewhere. Beyond this, the fun begins. Lead single ‘No Social’ is the stand out: a sassy brush-off to arrogant scenesters who look down their noses. ‘Everyone knows that a dog dressed in clothes is still a dog’, muses Ulrika Bjorsne. Elsewhere, ‘Replica Sun Machine’ includes luscious string arrangements (‘Yesterday To Come’), David Bowie circa ‘Aladdin Sane’ pomp (‘Now Til 69’) and a round the piano singsong ‘Hey Jude’ moment about our impending doom (‘The Downer Song’). In an age where Beth Ditto’s raucous bellowing equals emotion, the singing of Andrew Pettitt and Ulrika sounds flat and occasionally androgynous, as their harmonies slide against each other. Of course, this is to keep the band as equals, drawing attention to music overall.

You have to admire the man-hours Danger Mouse has put into arranging and producing ‘Replica Sun Machine’, presumably on free afternoons somewhere between his duties with Gnarls Barkley and generally being one of the coolest men in pop. Barely a phrase passes without a delicate tweak of reverb. At times, ‘Replica Sun Machine’ is a ménage a trois between Mr Mouse, John Cale (experimental pop pioneer formerly of the Velvet Underground, who provides ‘atmospherics’: a catch-all term for the swooshes and added value instrumentation) and Van Dyke Parks (a string arranger notable for his work with the Beach Boys). The imaginations and skill of the three experienced musicians sometimes engulf The Shortwave Set, leading to the question: is this simply a CV boost for Danger Mouse? Short of hiring an orchestra, ‘Replica Sun Machine’ is near impossible to recreate live. Without all the production, The Shortwave Set are simply two boys and a girl with inventive melodies and an exhaustive knowledge of late 60s psychedelic pop. Probably best to enjoy ‘Replica Sun Machine’ for what it is: a glorious trip through climate change anxieties and glistening pop.