The Telescopes

Double Agent

Sometimes, song titles alone will tell you that a band has lost its way. Just compare tracks from the Telescopes’ last album, 1992’s The Telescopes, with tracks from their new one, Third Wave: “Splashdown,” “High on Fire,” and “Flying” vs. “Tesla Death Ray,” “My Name Is Zardak (Drop Your Weaponz),” and, ahem, “Moog Destroya.” Yep, just as that gratuitous Z and A suggest, the former shoegazers from Burton-on-Trent have given up deftly woven psychedelia for a more manly sort of grooviness—one that favors swaggering over shimmering, big beats over big crescendos, and free-jazzy fluegelhorns over freaked-out guitars. Indeed, head ‘Scopes Stephen Lawrie and Jo Doran don’t even touch a six-string on Third Wave; instead, they occupy themselves with all manner of samples, synths, and self-described “electronic mayhem.” Only the album-opening “A Cabin in the Sky” and the mid-disc “When Nemo Sank the Nautillus” really recall the band’s previous record, with beautifully lazy keyboard lines staggering against sleepy drum patterns and even sleepier boy-girl vox. Although “Winter #2” and “You & I Are the Foxboy Noises” skip all the way back to 1989’s Taste, unfolding a string-gilded minimalism that Lawrie and Doran haven’t pulled off since that album’s “And Let Me Drift Away,” almost everywhere else, the ‘Scopes do something they’ve never done before: turn their songs into great big pounding headaches. “Death Ray” steals its amped-up rhythm track from a game of Space Invaders and comes off just as mind-numbing. “A Good Place to Hide” pairs a rambling Elvis monologue with a faux-jazz private-eye theme that slinks a lot less than it skronks. And “Destroya” demonstrates once and for all how goddamned annoying the Young Marble Giants would have been with a fuzz bass and access to Fruityloops software. In the past, change has served the ‘Scopes well. The three EP-strewn years from Taste to The Telescopes, for example, saw them transform themselves from overeager wah-wah-pedalers with an above-average sense of dynamics into the surest-handed craftspeople in all of dream-popdom. But perhaps a decade is too long to wait between records: It’s not that Lawrie and Doran have gone soft or failed to learn any new tricks, it’s that they’ve forgotten too many of their old ones. So even though Third Wave is hardly a dizmal failya, it’s a failya nonethelez. —Leonard Roberge