If Dinoflagellate Blooms was a child, it would be Elphaba from Wicked: all spiky angles and razor-sharp teeth. Obviously brilliant and intriguing, but brittle and bleak and lacking in warmth.
Taking Wallace Wylie’s advice, I acknowledge I’m clearly too emotionally attached to JG Thirlwell’s many aliases, and should expose any failings and hold them up to the light, but I can never bring myself to do it. I just politely leave a gap where any mention of YORK should be and move swiftly on to the next one. That’s, what, one bad album in 30 years? Besides, there’s nothing much to say about it: that was many years ago and since then Thirlwell’s released records faster than I can review them and all of them have been wonderful. Until now?
I was enthralled by the mere idea of a new Manorexia album. I don’t care if it’s bright green with a big nose and pointy teeth – I’m prepared to love it anyway. But here it is and I’m almost afraid to go near it. It’s just not making things easy for me. The joy is missing from this one – or at least buried deep. Even in the most sickening depths of despair, there’s a joy to Foetus records – whether they’re wallowing in self-pity or in quite a good mood, you can feel a playfulness there that doesn’t come through on this one. Well, at least, not at first. This album is sullen, withdrawn and spiteful. Quite unlike the sunny Venture Bros soundtrack, or the brooding-but-charming Mesopelagic Waters. I found that one – Dinoflagellate Blooms‘ predecessor – as soothing as this one is jarring.
It’s deliberately, unashamedly, “soundtrack music” to a film that doesn’t yet exist. It’s the musique concrète that gets me, though – all those teeth-jittering squeaks and bangs and clangs that are so very painful on the ears. Yes, there’s lush orchestration, but it’s not light and accessible like previous outings. At last with A Plastic Island in the Pacific, we have a track that doesn’t feel like an endurance test. We’re nearly halfway through the album. It’s not like I hated the preceding tracks – like Elphaba, they were impossible not to admire, but just so terribly difficult to like.
Difficult, but not impossible. The Perfect Patsy is vintage Thirlwell – an indisputably great track. It’s easy to hook into with layers of intriguing little noises and elements of many styles and make me want to go back many times and hear it again. Every time the track finishes I either repeat it or have to fight that temptation to move to the next one. This is what a Manorexia album is supposed to sound like. By the time Vika comes around, I’m thoroughly bewitched.
This isn’t – let it be noted – that grand British tradition of going to the seaside on a wet bank holiday when it’s freezing out and insisting we go paddling in the sea – all blue skin and chattering teeth – because dammit we are going to have fun if it’s the last bloody thing we do. It’s more like the freezing, wet Saturday at the theme park when the sun came out half an hour after arriving and we got to enjoy the blazing sunshine with the place practically to ourselves. Dinoflagellate Blooms just suddenly got a lot more fun.
Returning immediately to play it again after it’s ended (for the second time), I’m enjoying the first few tracks a lot more. Anabiosis is a grower, and though I’m over-familiar with Ten Ton Shadow (which showed up on a compilation at the beginning of the year), it still holds its charms. A fifth, sixth, seventh listen and it’s plain sailing. Yes, it’s still prickly and mean in places, but because I know that there’s a mellow, poppy bit just around the corner I don’t feel so tense. I know I can skip the ones I like less, but I listen to them anyway, and they sound OK. The ones I do love just get better and better.
Dinoflagellate Blooms is an awkward little bugger, but ultimately loveable.