As a founder of indie outfit Stereolab, Tim Gane meshed lounge, krautrock, electronic music, and more to produce a mesmeric vision that felt like the past’s vision of the future and the future’s vision of the past. It’s rather appropriate, then, that the first track on his debut album with Cavern of Anti-Matter is called “tardis cymbals”, winking at another legendary piece of British culture known for playing with time: Dr. Who. With the help of a new band and a few unexpected guests, Gane continues his mischievous streak on Void Beats / Invocation Trex, building familiar, pleasing drones to get your head nodding.
Stereolab were regularly compared to everyone from Neu! to Burt Bacharach, and none of that ever felt wrong. There was an eerie timelessness to much of their discography — particularly the masterpiece Emperor Tomato Ketchup — in the same way that The Jetsons used tropes from early sitcoms and dropped them into a future at once magical and familiar. With his new band, that air of futurity doesn’t carry quite the same weight, instead locking into the familiarity — driving rhythms and synth drones. It might not be as explosive as Stereolab, but Void Beats carries the same hypnotic quality.
As if to get closer to the krautrock core, Gane moved to Berlin. Then, to form his new band, he brought along Stereolab drummer Joe Dilworth, as well as electronics master Holger Zapf. Though they’ve only been playing together a brief while, their grooves sound entirely lived in. That could be due to Gane’s practiced sense of space and time. In a release accompanying the album, he described this methodology as “setting up tiny rhythmic cells and expanding on them in certain ways, splitting the melody and stretching out.” The scientific nature of that phrasing feels accurate; Gane’s compositions have always felt organic, yet precise, life seen first under a microscope and then widening out as if infinite.
The songs, therefore, can stretch a bit long. As an opener, “tardis cymbals” is daunting at nearly 13 minutes, while “void beat” similarly reaches over nearly nine minutes. That’s not to say that Cavern of Anti-Matter’s three-minute tracks are the stars — just that blending in between ultra-deep digs and quick interludes might pace things more evenly. In fact, “void beat” is a true highlight, captivating and evolving over its entire length.
The trio get some help though from Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom, and Mouse on Mars’ Jan St. Werner, but largely stand as an instrumental trio. Cox contributes vocals to the upbeat “liquid gate”, the closest the group comes to Stereolab’s poppier side, indulging his bedroom drawl in the lush maraca rhythm. It sticks out a bit, but offers two potential distinctions: Cavern of Anti-Matter could easily go the route of allowing more vocalists in through their cell walls, or they could use the track’s outstanding energy while figuring out a way to not need the vocalist to propel it.
There’s something almost dated to a few of the synth tones in songs like “melody in high feedback tones”. Perhaps some of the space-age blush has worn off since the Stereolab days. That happens with sci-fi all the time. Very rare does a futuristic-seeming thing continue to seem futuristic 20 years later. That’s the case here when single layers are given the spotlight. The songs work best when interlocking grooves shift and blend.
Closer “zone null” ends things on a sigh rather than a bang. More than anywhere else, the synths sound like traditional strings and piano — heck, that could well be a violin. It’s a pleasant if a bit plain track, more background-ready than the propulsive, combustible tracks of the album’s first half. But even at their weakest, Gane and co. know how to build intricate structures that bubble and grow without ever losing track of their core. Consider it a bit of “bend, don’t break.” And if they can already keep themselves on the right side of that maxim on a debut, their next record could just grow into some magnificent new shapes.
Essential Tracks: “liquid gate”, “void beat”