At last the Membranes new album is about to be released – it’s only been 25 years…
Highly influential UK post punk band the Membranes formed in the late seventies and their angular and noisy records were popular with John Peel and the music press and had a big influence on Big Black, Mercury Rev, Lambchop, Sonic Youth and a diverse range of then-emerging American bands, as well as UK groups as varied as My Bloody Valentine, Godflesh, The Charlatans and many others.
The group were a key part of the post punk DIY scene and toured the world several times. When My Bloody Valentine and then Shellac asked them to reform for separate ATP festival events it made sense for them to continue after a 25 year break. Their upcoming album to be released in June, Dark Matter/Dark Energy is already getting a great reaction from the press and media and their gigs have been stunning.
When John Robb met the head of the CERN project after a TEDx talk they were both speaking at it was the start of the Membranes most audacious album. Long and intense talks about the universe followed, and the idea of the birth and then the death of the universe seemed perfect for a song cycle for the Membranes new album and for special one-off gigs called The Universe Explained, where Robb interviews scientists on stage and the band play at the end.
All the songs touch on aspects of space – from the opening track about the Big Bang The Universe Explodes Into A Billion Photons Of Pure White Light, to Joe himself explaining the universe over the spooky Multiverse Suite, to the closing track The Hum Of The Universe, where the band try and capture the beauty and violence of the end of the universe and a human life.
During the recording of the album Robb’s own father died and his death is threaded through many of the songs and the idea that when we all die we return our dust and energy to the endless void. Tracks like In The Graveyard deal directly with watching his father die and his father can even be heard talking about the universe at the beginning of the same track.
Musically the Membranes had no interest in being a retro band. The double album seems them moving forward and experimenting with a fervent post punk, a psychedelia, dark dub, drones, neo classical pieces, stripped down film score and rushes of noisy discord. Built around the bass guitar – the key instrument of the post punk period that birthed the band this is a 21st century music made by a band who have been left to make music on their own terms.