There’s always a worry between initially hearing a great band and the release of their first record / major label debut / difficult second album / comeback special that somewhere along the line they’ll fuck it up. Fortunately with Working For A Nuclear Free City the first thing I heard was their terrific eponymous debut; an almost flawless lucid-dream trip through a thousand fantastical influences, it portrayed the city as narrative (mostly) without recourse to words, a kind of potted history of Manchester that spread to take in Canadian laptop shoegaze, intellectual art music, krautrock, Rugby drone pop, dirty funk, dub, a snippet of social commentary, and a whole big heap of cloudy psychedelia. Had I heard it in 2006, when it came out, it would probably have been my favourite album of that year; as it is, I got hold of it the following year, and it became part of the amazing tapestry of music that made up 2007.
I know almost nothing about Working For A Nuclear Free City as a band except where they’re from and what they released across 2006 and 2007; this eponymous debut album, 14 tracks over 42 minutes, an EP called Rocket which is every bit as good, and a double-disc compilation combining the two and an armful of other tracks, which was aimed at the American market. After that, I don’t know. I stopped caring. The debut album and it’s accompanying EP were more than enough. My love affair was brief, but I’m glad it happened.
Listening back now, the debut (and Rocket too, for that matter) is a pleasingly amateurish affair, completely in thrall to its influences but so in love with music and so full of ideas that its derivation doesn’t really seem to matter. It starts with a 90-second waft of faux-vinyl crackle and shoegazing smoke, before the tricksy rhythm and thrumming, stomach-deep bass of “Troubled Son” kick in, like some kind of foggy disco revivalism as imagined in a Wythenshawe bedroom through a cloud of dope smoke. “Dead Fingers Talking” rolls out of the dissipating smoke on an enormous bassline and a haze of laser noises, mumbled voices talking about cosmic dust and watching TV.
In the late 90s there was, briefly, a clutch of bands like Regular Fries and Lo Fidelity Allstars and Campag Velocet, who seemed to be composed of music journalists and drug dealers. Working For A Nuclear Free City, at a glance, could appear to be a 00s incarnation of the same thing, driven by an instinct to share one’s record collection by sticking the best bits together, almost at random, in a new record. Primal Scream are, of course, their spiritual forebears.
Nonetheless, they made something here that struck a chord with me. The beatific hum and thump of “Stone Cold,” saying more with a chord-change and an acoustic chime than many supposedly sensitive singers ever manage. The none-more-Spiritualized drone+explosion of “Over,” still needing to be heard to be believed. The beatific pastures and harmonics of “Quiet Place”. The shoegazey textures and explosions of “So”. The joyous laptronica of “Forever”. The songs are short, barely even songs half the time, and more like signifiers or reminders of other music, and they run into each other in an enthusiastic blur.
As eclectic and derivative as Working For A Nuclear Free City is, it’s also of a piece, the DIY production, smokey mixing and headroom-friendly mastering giving it a pleasingly dreamy, hallucinogenic sound that binds everything together. Gauche and clumsy, but marvellous fun all the same.