The story of About Group’s third album is an unlikely one in a number of ways, a surprise that it exists at all. The super side project of, most notably, Hot Chip singer Alexis Taylor and Spiritualized’s John Coxon came together for the first time one day in 2009. By the end of that day, they’d finished their debut album for Treader Records, All Is Not Lost. It was essentially an intensive improvisation, an experiment in which four seasoned musicians created an LP’s worth of psychedelic music in 24 hours, all the while trying to make it sound as close to a prepared, fine-tuned work as possible. It smelled like a one-off, but two years later, they again churned out 47 minutes of heavily improvised material with the same time constraints for their sophomore effort, Start and Complete.
The results were similar on both: strong, sparse nuggets of interesting free-form jams and psych-pop, an album chock full of promising ideas that surely could have sounded even better with just a little revision. And now with Between the Walls, the band takes significant steps towards abandoning their former model, falling just short of naming the album About Face. Between the Walls sounds significantly more prepared than both prior outings, its many synth, organ, drum, and guitar textures more attentively placed. It’s clear they’ve loosened their rules from the album’s very first few minutes, wherein Alexis Taylor’s first words are a Zeppelin-ified cover of “Walk on By”.
Taylor defines the key to About Group’s music as “the balance between songwriting and free playing, and a lack of clarity about which mode we will be in for any given amount of time.” This couldn’t be more clearly echoed than on the album’s strongest nine-minute stretch, in its ninth and tenth tracks. The instrumental, somber noise jam “Untitled” pivots hard into the intimate “I Never Lock That Door”, an honest-to-goodness folk song and one of the most tradition-rooted songs of Taylor’s career. Like the rest of Between the Walls, it’s a sequence that demands close attention – and the closest About Group has come to nailing that balance he’s talking about.
Essential Tracks: “Untitled”, “I Never Lock That Door”, and “Walk on By”