If last year’s self-titled debut album of Future Clouds & Radar was immediately accessible in places and bewilderingly opaque in others, this follow-up combines each side of leader Robert Harrison’s brain in every one of its eight songs. The melodies may not be as bright this time – there’s no “You Will Be Loved” or “Dr. No” to remind you of the mid-period Beatles – but they are uniformly beautiful, surrounded by arrangements of complexity and depth.
It’s hard to make much sense of the lyrics even after repeated listens – there’s some sort of fixation on mortality, and a lot of images that might connect if you hang out in Harrison’s circle. Still, that doesn’t mean the music is meaningless; Peoria is 34 minutes of meditations on pop music possibilities, almost as if the second half of the Beatles’ career was compressed into eight songs and blended with modern-day samplers and drum machines. (Think what “A Day In The Life” could have been with the equipment Harrison takes for granted.)
(Future Clouds & Radar’s “The Epcot View” from Peoria)
If this sounds academic or dry, not to worry: Peoria is emotionally powerful. There is a sadness, a yearning, a questing for connection which comes across again and again in the music, as the trumpets peal above Harrison’s plaintive voice, as the strings soar after synthesizer squiggles, as sampled audience applause takes on the end of a melodic line. The disc finishes with a huge, majestic chorus of voices, an eerie piano melody, and pounding drums and bass slowly winding down into an unexpected chord that resonates like a question mark, asking if it’s time to start the whole process over again.