Loop were the kind of band that cut straight through the heart. Where Spaceman 3 were something akin to high-brow exhibitionism and the ’Mary Chain had the jangle, Loop’s central themes relied on the drone, flirting with the brooding contours of psychadelia.
With surgical precision, they were a force of nature, unleashing the kind of feverish maelstrom few bands in this arcane sonic chrysalis possessed. Loop rekindled the hippy dream by deep, locked-in grooves and piercing laser beam drone. True masters of their trade.
Speaking to friends who saw them during the epic three album run of Heaven’s End (1987), Fade Out (1989) and A Gilded Eternity (1990), the use of stadium amplification in small venues added to the hypno maximalism experience, resulting in the same cauldron of white noise of early Swans and, closer to home, Head Of David.
At first I thought it was all a myth, however this tale of sonic punishment was later confirmed by then bassist, Neil Mackay, who my ‘soundhead’ mate and I got talking to after Loop’s comeback show in 2013 at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands.
From the dead-eyed, unhinged psych-inspired Heaven’s End and the menacing frontiers met during Fade Out, to A Gilded Eternity (a combination of its two older siblings), no one did hypnotic like Loop. Sure, there was a gleaning of The Stooges, but Loop didn’t appropriate the epic wildness of the Ann Arbor touchstones. They simply took these ideas to new cinematic levels.
That sound? Loop. And only Loop.
It’s quite astonishing considering how many imitators and sound-alikes have come and gone since A Gilded Eternity – not one of them capturing Loop’s intensity.
Loop’s cosmic motorik chug was multi-faceted, peeling off layers and layers of sound. It made them unlikely world builders. Again, that surgical precision. Loop mastermind, Robert Hampson, took these elements and applied them to Main – his ambient-inspired project now as much revered as Loop.
Despite drone being far more widespread since the early days of Loop (and later with Main), still what Loop do is bravely original. On the back of their appearance at the aforementioned ATP festival, the EP, Array 1, followed in 2015. With Array 2 and 3 set as their next releases, these plans were thwarted by the fabled house of cards that was ATP and the organisation’s well-documented fall from grace.
Reacquainting with Loop in 2017 at the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, it was evident that Hampson was a man entrenched in his own world. As noise from the adjacent stage inside the Camp and Furnace crept through the passageway, it was met with contempt from the Loop leader. “That sounds about as psychedelic as my cat!” he grizzled, distinctly unimpressed that Loop’s set was contaminated with bargain bin psychedelia. It wasn’t the best night for Loop – a band, quite literally in this instance, failing to play well with others.
In many cases, this episode encapsulated the stop-start history of the band. However, such episodes can now be forgotten as we welcome in Loop’s long-awaited new LP, Sonancy.
With Hampson joined by a new cast, including Hugo Morgan (bass), Dan Boyd (guitar) and Wayne Maskell (drums), Sonancy is packed with otherworldly nuances of sound and song titles that feel more aligned to a Philip K. Dick compendium. Essentially, it’s Loop building their own world yet again.
It all starts with the strip-light flicker of Interference – a drum-tight, no nonsense dive into new-era Loop, and from here the hooks are in.
Wailing like a warning siren at a nuclear power plant, Eolian is – in many ways – vintage Loop. Those stealth-like walls of sound slowly strangling the listeners into submission. Loop have never been an immediate concern, with the highest rewards left for those with patience. Eolian encapsulates this.
And with that Supra follows. Astral psychedelia injected with some new wild gateway drug, with Supra those hippified dreams on Heaven’s End are reimaged. It’s like Loop’s own version of ambient rock, and this continues with Penumbra I and later with Penumbra II. Both haunting interludes that swirl with cinematic grandeur, adding vital sonic granules to Sonancy.
With buzz-saw drone and deathly exactitude, Isochron takes its cue from Hampson’s Main. Stylistic symmetry between the two respective sound worlds which unravels into a new form of psychedelic splendour.
Its aesthetic bleeds into Halo – Loop’s finest offering on Sonancy. With sounds that curl around the room, Halo is like a slow, stirring beast that’s sick of being prodded. Once in its clutches, the results are crushing.
Then there’s Fermion and Axion. Streamlined Loop, but not as we know it. It’s Loop’s way of stirring up the soundheads into those frenzied whirlpools of euphoria.
It all ends with Aurora. Capturing the same mystic fire of Supra, Loop call time on an album that barely has an ounce of fat to trim. It’s all the best bits of Loop rolled into one, and that’s why Sonancy will draw in new comers. The next generation of soundheads.
It’s funny how it all works out. They say time changes things, but once again (forever the contrarians) Loop do things on their own terms. The best bands often do, and on Sonancy, with its hypnotic intensity and ear-piercing thrum, that continues.
Sonancy is out Friday via Reactor/Cooking Vinyl. Purchase from Bandcamp.