In October last year, Medway’s The Love Family released the album Tracks. It was a full-on assault of catchy guitar riffs and pounding drums. But it had something else too…
The final track, ‘Traces, Pt. 2’ took something of a departure: a post-apocalyptic, synth led dystopian vision of chilling homogeneity and unwelcoming landscapes, of the past giving way to some alien, uninviting present.
In short, it wouldn’t be too far out of place on The Science Department’s debut, eponymous album, released earlier this year.
And that wouldn’t have been such a difficult thing to arrange; the frontman of The Love Family and the frontman of The Science Department are one and the same: Gary Robertson.
The Science Department (such an evocative and precise band name, it’s surprising it wasn’t snapped up years ago) take the doom-laden, dense sounds found on ‘Traces, Pt. 2’ and make an entire album out of the themes of twenty-first century fear, paranoia and disconnect.
Amid the great big, thick artificial strings, the bleeps, the mechanical rhythms and the distorted sounds of gunfire, the songs take on various dystopian ideas: a mysterious witness protection program (‘New ID’), secretive and disturbing experiments (‘We Experiment’) and the malevolent omnipresence of corporations in both ‘Austin’ (“you’re working for us now/we remake to today”) and ‘Tomorrow Today’ (“we’re the future living corporation/you can’t get in our way”).
Despite the shiny promises of the latter song’s narrators (“we’re here to bring you tomorrow today”), there’s a sinister undercurrent. Mrs Smith – with a surname immediately recalling 1984 – has a husband away at war; while he’s gone (possibly forever) she will be entirely at the mercy of his employers.
There are moments when the clouds of suspicion and secrecy lift. ‘HS1’ celebrates the sleek modernity of the high-speed train service that takes passengers from Kent to London St Pancras.
But it is less the prospect of traveling “from the sea to the city of glass and chrome” than the thrill of knowing in “less that one hour I can be with you” that is the main attraction.
There is little in the way of positive human – and humane – interaction on this record, so drenched is it in the cold rise of machines and tyranny; when warmth does appear, it radiates and shines.
Allusions to Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack appear throughout the album, but there are hints of other influences lurking. While the lyrics of ‘We Experiment’ may recall Tom Waits’ horrifically evocative ‘What’s He Building in There?’, the music nods towards Kraftwerk. Later, ‘Tomorrow Today’ recalls Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’.
The record closes with ‘Just Remember’, heavy again with a Blade Runner palette, both in theme and sound. But hope does appear in the cracks: “Just remember where the river bends/just remember the warmth of the sun/just remember to remember everyone” run the closing lines.
It is here that the humanity of the record shines through: a call to pause amidst all the dread and anxiety of “century twenty one” (as ‘HS1’ calls it) and reconnect with life: remember.
Find out more about The Love Family, Gary Robertson’s other musical projects and many other Medway bands and artists in Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway, available through Cultured Llama.