Stroud-based quartet Lensmen are the type of the band that take mundane snapshots of life and turn them into something cataclysmic.
Formed in 2016 by Alun Hughes (vocals), Gavin McClafferty (bass), Jason Wilkinson (drums), and Dan Fisher (keyboards), having released their 2017 debut EP, Scared of Swimming, the four-piece have spent the next five years refining their craft, stripping back their post-punk framework for something that’s equal parts atmospheric and visceral.
Having built their own studio during lockdown, this is a band that is painfully meticulous. Not a moment is wasted on tape during their excellent debut full-length, Somewhere Somewhere.
Fronted by the award-winning poet Hughes, whose works feature in the accompanying pamphlet to Somewhere Somewhere, Down The Heavens, his work echoes the abstract spoken-word of Enablers’ Pete Simonelli.
Sonically, though, Lensman aren’t as spiky. Where Enablers grab you by the throat and demand undivided attention, Lensmen provoke thought in other ways, and with their patient build-ups and brooding atmospheres, the journey of Somewhere Somewhere is like being ushered into the Black Lodge.
No one track is the same here. It’s like each band member has thrown a bunch of records across the table and concocted their influences into one wild tasting broth. While Scared of Swimming leaned hard on post-punk as we once knew it to be, Somewhere Somewhere is the more accomplished work. Lensmen break down the boundaries in what is something bravely original. and despite each track having its own personality, Somewhere Somewhere still feels steadfastly coherent. It’s a record in every sense of the term.
Starting with Techno Pets. A spoken-word piece that meanders with a techno-inspired soundscape that envelopes Hughes’ vocals like a winter mist over an open field. This is the kind of the narcotic effect that forms the backbone of Somewhere Somewhere.
Backed by a minimal doom-like haze we’d normally associate with current-era Swans, Crow Time sees Hughes getting his soul boy well and truly on. A total contrast to How Late It Was – a track that feeds into’80s hip-hop, as Lensmen cleverly weave these influences into a sonic tapestry that is most certainly their own.
The sonic noodlings are equally intriguing on Course to Naming a Brook, with elusive beddings of sound for Hughes’ abstract songcraft, and here it’s at its most ambiguous and far-reaching. The surprises continue on Sonic Reel For the Sea, which sees an acoustic thread that spells campfire song. With the aid of psychedelics…
On album highlight, Threshold Blues, and later with Cloud As A Hawk, Lensmen take their cues from an open mic night where the quiet aloof bloke steps up, and – accompanied by an Einstürzende Neubauten-inspired backing track – drops the most beguiling performance of the night.
Which drips into dub-fused Dear Brook. A darkwave blur made for lonely nights and pitch black rooms with the aid of Carling. “Desperate for time that disappears below the hazels at the gate” utters Hughes. A line about as chilling as these current bone-cold nights with no gas and electric.
The Neubauten worship continues on Somewhere Somewhere’s closing track Oaken. A fitting end to an album that will always ask questions with the answers left hanging in the ether.
While we talk about the sonic framework of Somewhere Somewhere, the poetry is equally as striking. But with art like this, there’s no point in trying to dissect the meaning of Hughes’ subjects. So splintered and nonfigurative, the meanings of these songs shift and form different shapes with each listen. That narcotic effect, which, in turn, renders Lensmen as a new psychedelic force.
And with that, just when you think you’ve heard all the best records in 2022, Lensmen have only gone and thrown a spanner in the works with Somewhere Somewhere. Another great victory, not only for themselves, but for underground music in the U.K.
Somewhere Somwhere is out via Irregular Patterns. Purchase from Bandcamp.