Hackneyed as it may sound, you can learn a lot by taking the right drugs at the right time. You can also learn a lot by quitting drugs, but the emotional and physical lessons of substance experimentation aren’t to be sneered at. Few musicians have been as outspoken on this topic as Peter Kember, who calls taking DMT a “sacrament” and whose first band, Spacemen 3, were unparalleled in their desire to mimetically reproduce the experience of tripping on record. Their Möbius strip of a motto, “Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to,” rendered both activities equal, cause and effect crossfading into an endless bender. And while their output, aside from the single “Big City (Everyone I Know Can Be Found Here),” was hardly danceable, they embodied a late ’80s shift in their native England when rock music became gentler and less aggressive thanks in part to the rise of rave culture and ecstasy. The fans mellowed out, as well.“They were hugging, not fighting,” Kember said on the C86 podcast earlier this year, laughing, “and it was a big improvement. People stopped chasing me.”
Always a raver by association alone, Kember changed his tune in 2020 with All Things Being Equal, the first album in 30 years he released under his Sonic Boom moniker. Electronic and undulating, if not exactly booty-shaking, All Things suggested Suicide if they moved to Ibiza and sang about love and environmentalism. Sonic Boom’s new album-length remix of its predecessor, Almost Nothing Is Nearly Enough, locates him more firmly in Britain’s so-called Second Summer of Love. Surprisingly, Almost Nothing isn’t an afterthought, but rather a companion vision, as cohesive and impassioned as its source material.
Kember has a fraught relationship with remixes. He doesn’t enlist other producers to rework his tracks, and dislikes the cross-genre treatments that have become ubiquitous in the past couple of decades. Yet he approaches his own work like a remixer: he winnowed down an excellent mix of Spacemen 3’s masterpiece The Perfect Prescription simply because he and his bandmates determined that the songs were too difficult to play live. Reflecting this same logic—that records can be simplified without losing the qualities that make them great—Almost Nothing is Nearly Enough scoops out its precursor’s blissful core and presents it to us as a discrete artwork.
The scenery here is sunnier, the beats more propulsive. The introspective spoken word pieces are gone, and even on the title track, lyrics about “floods” and “fire” are elevated by sky-bound synths. The ceaseless optimism of Kember’s drones and the delightful languor of his vocals evoke his friend and frequent collaborator Panda Bear, which only adds to the tone of positivity. Cutting his last album down to its throbbing pulse, Kember captures the spirit of the rave—if not its sound.
He does employ some time-tested moves. Songs that were originally shorter, like “Just Imagine,” stretch out past the 11-minute mark. ”Tawkin Techno” lives up to its name with more four-on-the-floor pummel, and throughout the album, Kember loops stems, filters drums, and begins songs with nearly a capella vocals. The project is nonetheless suffused with his auteurist sensibility, its 51 minutes chock full of signature Kember mantras. “Take me somewhere a lil’ bit deeper /Take me somewhere a lil’ bit sweeter,” he sings on one track, and later, “Make it about, the way that you live /Make it about, the love that you give.” His new motto, it seems, is “Making music to become a better person to make music to become a better person.” The key is change, whether of your consciousness, mixes, life, or all three: Past and present selves can coexist as easily as records on a shelf.
Buy: Rough Trade
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