Flotation Toy Device – ‘The Machine That Made Us’

Flotation Toy Warning’s second full length album finds the UK based band employing their same wildly individual blend of traditional songwriting strengths and stylistic flourishes to memorable effect on The Machine That Made Us. The release’s ten songs span a gamut of sounds and utilize both standard and unusual instrumentation with gripping creativity. Vocalist, musician, and songwriter Paul Carter, alongside guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Ben Clay, emerge from the album as the primary artistic forces driving the band’s vision, but a single run-through of the songs will convince any experienced listener that this is truly an unified musical project. This is one of the more formidable pieces of songwriting you’ll likely hear in 2017 and, despite whatever unusual poses it sets forth, challenges its audience in ultimately rewarding ways.

“Controlling The Sea” begins the album with a slightly hallucinatory, off kilter lilt and the uneasy vocal harmonies nonetheless retain clearly defined melodic value. The song seems to naturally amplify itself as it moves closer and closer to its conclusion and Clay’s lightly jangling guitar has a softly pressing energy that draws you in. The improbably titled “Due to Adverse Weather Conditions, All My Heroes Surrendered” marries a spectacular lyric with an imaginative vocal presentation, a throbbing synth sheen bubbling under the mix during much of the song, and well placed natural drumming. The percussion helps frame the unlikely and bold turns in the arrangement. It does a notable job of, essentially, conjuring vast musical universe in less than seven minutes and, most impressively, in a seemingly organic and tightly structured composition.

“Everything That Is Difficult Will Come to an End” has fewer of the often surprising musical turns we hear in the previous song, but instead embraces a more self-consciously symphonic manner. Chamber pop is a label others have used to describe Flotation Toy Device’s music and it applies here, but those unfamiliar with the term should think it implies anything self-important or ponderous. This is longer than the earlier tune and builds a tremendous amount of dramatic tension it releases in its own fashion for listeners and, no matter how lush or sonically impressive it becomes, the performance remains entirely accessible. There’s a woozy, melancholic mood pervading “I Quite Like It When He Sings” and Paul Carter’s voice captures a tone of hushed longing and weariness alike that’s impossible to ignore. The keyboards suggest a waft of the funereal, but it’s never pushed too hard. The choir vocal opening “When the Boat Comes Inside Your House” accompanied by a slow bass pulse segues into a mid-tempo jaunt given its swing by drumming and a recurring keyboard line. It isn’t terribly sophisticated, but still sounds utterly unique. The electronica freak out opening “Driving Under the Influence of Loneliness” quickly shifts into another unusual keyboard driven song with light supporting instrumentation from guitar, bass, and other touches. It’s relatively brief, especially when compared to the surrounding songs, but it creates a nice bridge leading listeners into the album’s last quarter and its finale “The Moongoose Analogue”. The last song is twelve plus minutes in length and stretches the band’s songwriting vision in an exciting way, but we soon discover they are more than capable of sustaining songs of this length. It makes for the definitive album closer they naturally hope for and its multiple sections are seamlessly handled without any hints of patch jobs between initially disparate pieces. Flotation Toy Warning are a reminder, if any were required, that the United Kingdom still produce exciting and important artists, but it’s the daring of this band on The Machine That Made Us that sets it apart most of all.

Jason Hillenburg