It’s been five years since Carlisle genre-smashers The Lucid Dream released their first album, and by contrast there’s been just one year between their self-titled second offering and this, their third.
Whilst sharing more of a musical heritage with its immediate predecessor than the band’s first LP, Compulsion Songs doesn’t wait to strike out in its own direction with the lapel-grabbing opening track Bad Texan, whose first couple of lyric-less minutes feel like a tune from the soundtrack of the best movie you’ve never seen.
After the noise-heavy first track you’d be forgiven for expecting more heavy rhythms, but instead Stormy Waters takes a turn for the folky, invoking mental images of the Solway Firth under heavy fog. The tune slowly grows layer upon layer of instruments, and by the time the fade-out comes puts one in mind of late night psych festival campfire dances.
The soothing homeliness of Stormy Waters makes way to the far less comfortable I’m a Star in My Own Right, a tune that meanders through instrumental drama and heavy basslines, via a dub siren and a call to action: “If you wanna live life” sings Mark Emmerson, “be a star in your own right.” The song feels like more of a protest than a beacon of hope, leaving one in mind of rain-soaked Carlisle streets and the struggle to make oneself heard in a community not built to listen.
If The Emptiest Place sees the band’s music take on the feeling of a modern western’s soundtrack then 21st Century sees the band hedge closer to the music roots that they put down in their first and second albums: a layered fist-punch of a song. In the wrong hands, this could have sounded like a cacophony, yet The Lucid Dream seem to be perfectly suited to keeping this many balls in the air at once. At two minutes exactly, 21st Century is by far the shortest track on the album, yet it holds its own amongst its siblings by sheer force of personality.
All of which sets stage for the final two tracks, Nadir and Epitaph, which feel rather like one nineteen-minute long song divided into two. Epitaph sets the stage with what by now seems to be a signature move for The Lucid Dream: a slow-building crescendo of layers to launch the listeners into a fast-moving river of sound. Epitaph takes on the themes developed in Nadir and develops them into a much more hopeful-feeling tune, as though the two songs are different sides of the same coin; different aspects of the same tale.
It’s fair to say that Compulsion Songs won’t be for everyone. In some ways it’s a slow-burner, an album that needs an attention span beyond that of the modern every-day listener. By the same token it’s an album best experienced at night and with friends, with all the different layered sounds waiting to be unwrapped, picked apart and understood.
A musical tour de force, Compusion Songs proves that not only are The Lucid Dream able to master whatever genre they happen to want to turn their hands to, but also that they’re in a field of their own in the UK psych scene. There are no limits to their music, no rigid rules to which they adhere. Instead they follow where their music leads them, and in the process create something truly astonishing and masterful.