The Aliens shouldn’t exist in 2008. They’re too unusual, too bloody-minded to be allowed to release records. Yeah, sure, Noel Gallagher and Thom Yorke loved The Beta Band, the group that spawned The Aliens (and when have they ever agreed on anything?), but really, if you were running a label and if it was your money, would you release their records? Really? Of course you would, because you’re open-minded enough to be reading this review when you could be reading something else on this page about some scrag-end rip-off of The Libertines or Klaxons or something. The good news is that The Aliens are free to release what they like after leaving their major label. So in contrast to their debut album’s wonky-pop approach, ‘Luna’ exudes a woozy, hallucinatory quality. Songs take multiple tangential turns and suddenly swell with head-spinning instrumentation and arrangements. Guitars sound like everything from Neil Young’s fractious mid-’70s soloing (‘Boats’) to the foggy ominousness of the Twin Peaks theme (‘Daffodils’) while keyboards are frequently played by anything up to one finger. Incidentally, it also appears the whole album was mixed, despite claims to the contrary, somewhere in a suburb of Atlantis.
In short, it’s imbued with a sonic adventurousness that Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson would find intoxicating and occasionally somewhat familiar. So ‘Everyone’ dices up The Beach Boys’ ‘Vegetables’ and chucks in a music hall piano to create a heady psych stew, while ‘Smoggy Bog’ propels Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ bassline to Warp Five and takes ‘Astronomy Domine’ for a joyride around the galaxy. But elsewhere they cast their net much wider than the usual pysch hegemony. Ten minute opener ‘Bobby’s Song’ has a motorik beat that morphs into a gypsy hoedown, while the title track starts with ominous pianos before turning into a full-on guitar riff-tank. Admittedly, it’s a tank made of faded denim, footballer perms and Deep Purple sew-ons: pretty useless on the battlefield, but aesthetically impressive nonetheless.
The highlight is the iridescent beauty of ‘Blue Mantle’, as delicate and dazzling as a snowflake. Its refrain (“I’m waking up love”) sounds like it’s sung from the middle of heaven itself; its timid splendour may just make it the most beautiful song of the year.
‘Luna’ isn’t for the faint-hearted, fashion-conscious or dull-witted. Kooks fans seeking a challenge should keep exploring the outer reaches of The Fratellis’ oeuvre. But for people after a patchouli-scented patchwork of thought-provoking musicality, The Aliens have landed.