Back in 1993, this was my favourite album in the world. A couple of years later, when I moved to London, my ritual with my fanzine co-editor was to turn up at hers with a bottle of whiskey and drain the bottle while listening to the week’s releases. We’d scribble down our thoughts before we got too drunk and then reward ourselves by listening to Need for Not, lying on our backs on the floor.
Owing as much to Killing Joke and Swans as to hippies and shoegazers, it was the wild eclecticism bound into some of the tightest playing I’ve ever seen that appealed so strongly to us both. Most bands blend their influences; Levitation more sort of squashed them in.
Against Nature is paradoxically the weakest track and the perfect opener. It establishes the mix of indie-punk-rock and swirling psychedelia and mood of relentless, crushing paranoia, while introducing you to Dave Francolini’s impossible drumming and ex-Cardiac Bic Hayes’ fierce riffs – neither of them overstated.
Single World Around is subtler still. In school, we had a day where we were all to bring in our favourite songs and play them to each other, and nobody got what the “big deal” was about this song. I couldn’t understand how they missed that breathless clash of styles and genres, the unexpected guitar squeals, that strangely funky bassline, and – as ever – former House of Love man Terry Bickers’ fantastically weird lyrics. All anyone heard was quite a nice indie pop song. Their loss.
Hangnail throws any ideas of subtlety out of the window goes straight for the throat. Plinky harpsichord gives way to brutal guitars and percussion, which take the forefront for once. Levitation took the rules that defined Cardiacs – an intense, playful musicality in which virtuosity reined in what would otherwise be utter chaos – and applied them to a wholly different canvas.
Resist is one of my favourite tracks, and also one of the simplest. What marks it out is a single note repeated throughout almost the entire song, which becomes more disturbing the longer it’s played. “Sometimes I feel like everyone knows,” sings Bickers in a quiet voice that suggests if you don’t hand him back his red Swingline stapler right now, he’s going to burn the whole place down.
Arcs of Light and Dew is dreamy stuff that’s probably more in line with what you’d expect from someone who names themselves after a Hawkwind record.
Side two’s opener Pieces of Mary is devastating. Our ritual was silence: neither of us was allowed to speak while this song was playing – particularly during the frankly orgasmic build to the guitar solo near the end. You might notice the percussion first – since it is extraordinary – but for me it’s the bass that really sets this apart. The song starts off as a raging cloud of angst that spins out into what passes for a chorus and then after an eye-watering drum break (certainly insofar as shoegazing indie pop is concerned!) spirals off into that … bit … so absolutely f***ing perfect I can’t even type while it’s playing.
Smile is sweet without being cloying: a pleasant aftermath to the previous track.
Embedded takes the gentleness of Smile and goes one step further: that multi-part harmony on the line “forever” really does feel timeless, as though the song itself stretches across eternity. If 2001: A Space Odyssey ever needed an alternative soundtrack, this would do nicely.
It seems strange to end the album on yet another slow, quiet track, but Coterie does precisely that. Again, it’s another form of quiet: crouched, ready to spring. By the time Bickers sings “in the last chaotic wave”, you realise you are caught in the current – an undulating swell of an enormous body of water in an unrelenting tide. The song fades out and then crashes back in with a brief drum solo before letting loose into the outright chaos it’s threatened from the start. It’s like a dam bursting. As soon as that gush of noise is over, the album ends.
Too soon, in my opinion.
Terry Bickers reformed House of Love in 2003. Bic, Laurence and Dave had fleeting success with Dark Star before finding work as session musicians. Hayes was last seen in Mikokosmos; Francolini in Dragons. Bob White fronted the Brighton-based Milk and Honey Band. Former Connecticut resident Steve Ludwin (who replaced Bickers in 1994) unsuccessfully auditioned to front Velvet Revolver, finding better luck as a songwriter-producer. His hits include Ash’s Warmer Than Fire, Placebo’s Ashtray Heart, and MTV Europe show Annoying Americans.