If Battles are the painstaking number crunchers in the laboratory of math rock, calibrating their work to perfection, Parisian three-piece NLF3 sound more they’re throwing everything into a beaker and emerging moments later with soot on their faces and their hair standing on end. There’s a palpable feeling of joy running throughout this, their fourth album; a sense of heedlessness in the pursuit of, well, of whatever it is that NLF3 are pursuing. What that is doesn’t really become clear over the course of Ride on a Brand New Time, but for all its lack of direction it still throws up some outstanding moments.
Things immediately click into a groove with the funk bassline, crisscrossing guitar lines and distorted “ba-ba-ba” vocals of ‘Several Kinds’. It’s an arresting start, but once the initial thrill wears off it quickly becomes apparent that there’s nothing new going on here. In fact both ‘Several Kinds’ and its immediate successors, ‘Echotropic’ and ‘Ride On Ride On’, could slip quite easily onto Tortoise’s 2001 Standards LP.
Just as you make your peace with that and settle down to be profoundly unsurprised, however, along comes 'Fuses Apes & Doppler' which, despite its introduction prompting the thought that some mischief maker’s slipped Moon Safari into your player while you weren’t looking, proceeds to lift up and away into the stratosphere. Held on its course by a lapping bassline and propelled by slowly building guitar tremolos, a real sense of tension – augmented by echoing vocal swoons – builds through the track’s first half. But the My Bloody Valentine-style squall of white noise that would appear to be the track’s logical outcome never materialises. Instead the music’s momentum, like that of a wave, curls and collapses back in on itself, the track receding towards its conclusion with the titular Doppler effect picking its way between occasional, almost accidental thunderous drum fills.
This fascinating track is followed by another, ‘Shadonga Falls’, in which a fuzzed-over drum machine beat gets slowly obscured behind a burbling bassline, guitar parts that manage to be angular and languid all at once and a queasy Latin-sounding melody floating up in the high registers. A later highlight, ‘Oxala Mon Amour’, is constructed from similarly disparate units of sound: a churning stew of crashing drums, harmonised chanting and a trebly picked guitar line that conveys, albeit in a less muscular fashion, the restless urgency of a 303 acid line.
‘Oxala Mon Amour’’s coda, however, a two-minute Farfisa-led dirge, has the feel of an afterthought. It’s not that it’s especially bad – nothing here is sub-standard per se – more that when they’re really firing NLF3 raise expectations, so the sections that don’t come off disappoint more than they otherwise might. It’s tempting to imagine this set being transformed in a live setting, but while there’s plenty to enjoy on the record – the building guitar line that restlessly paces the expansive terrain of ‘Mmm What Curse?’ (the bassline of which immediately calls to mind Air’s 'Modular Mix'); the Chinese melody, shuffling drums and strangled electronic avian effects of ‘Birds No Birds’; the bassline that goes for a walk to a totally different time signature from everything else on ‘Several Kinds’ – Ride on a Brand New Time has its share of longueurs, too.
6Chris Power's Score