It’s been just over a year since I wrote about the debut album from alt electronic duo Thought Bubble. A lot has happened in those ensuing twelve months for the band. Which is why it gives me enormous pleasure to hear that they’re back with their latest record, Nowhere.
Thought Bubble, as you’ll remember, are keyboardist Chris Cordwell and percussionist Nick Raybould. They make the most glorious electro psych music and since releasing their debut, Around, Raybould underwent some lifesaving surgery. I asked him how that experience coloured the creation of this album.
“During the original lockdown I was diagnosed with having massively blocked arteries around my heart and in need of an urgent operation. I was on a waiting list for about ten months before undergoing a quadruple bypass. All the time, me and my Thought Bubble buddy Chris recorded loads and loads of music. It was the only way of distracting me from dwelling on what could be… the end.”
“Nowhere is from a lyric, but in my mind it’s where we were going in lockdown – and furthermore, where I could be by the time the album appeared. Thankfully the procedure was a huge success. Despite my precarious state, I did all the drums and hand percussion on this album and, as you’ll hear, Chris and I brought in a few favours from other remote musicians.”
They say music is the great healer and it seems this album helped to do just that. Let’s dive in and see what the boys have in store for us.
The album opens on the aptly titled ‘Now Boarding’. A driving, metronomic drumbeat providing the launch pad for Cordwell’s cascading and hazy synth lines. Metallic rhythmic percussion really delivering that feeling of motion. Towards what though? We’re unsure but know we are getting there.
Next up is the claustrophobia of ‘Superficial’. Pablo Raybould, actor brother to Nick, returns to add his dulcet tones to this one. Last heard on ‘Mobius Trip’ on Around he delivers a cracking performance again here. Is this a love letter, a railing against the night, whatever, it’s sheer poetry and makes me smile every time.
‘Distraction Engine’ grows from a syncopated synth part into a dark and brooding meander. I particularly like how sympathetic the drums are to that syncopated rhythm. Never aping, only augmenting and embellishing. The very measure of restraint it allows room for the ghostly whispers and eerie wailing to affect their presence.
The pace quickens and things get a bit acid squelchy on ‘Neon Garden’. That almost motoric drumbeat stretches off into the distance as we float along on waves of sound. Bass and drums root this track as the synths wander off among the stars. This is really compelling music as well as Thought Bubbles trademark.
As we enter the second half of the album the boys bring in another collaborator, Shaun Bailey from ambient electronica outfit MonkeyTrial. Bailey adds some out-there guitar sounds to ‘Response’. His parts are spacious and work beautifully as a foil to Cordwell’s tightly woven synths. You can almost sense the release at the moment his part begins.
‘Control Your Own Story’ has a glorious swagger to it. Raybould providing the nailed down groove behind the kit and vocals to boot. In stark contrast Cordwell is going absolutely nuts over the top. It’s a stellar performance and absolutely makes this track. These two know how to play to each other’s strengths, that’s obvious, but here they take that up a level. Musical magic.
The collaborations continue with Rob Williams from BABAL bringing his guitar magic to ‘Propulsion’. There’s an African tribal feel to Williams modal guitar work. The Thought Bubble boys rise to the occasion with a cacophony of percussion work and spacious synth work leaving room for the guitar to do its thing. This is my album stand out track and the one I return to time and time again.
The album comes to close with the serene and beautiful ‘Cloudbursting’. It features the sumptuous vocals of Laura Pickering of Neotopia fame. The song hangs around this walking bassline and ever shifting drumbeat. Everything else seems to happen so effortlessly. From the synth jam to Pickering’s nuanced delivery, it’s an absolute joy and the perfect end to this listening experience.
As always, Thought Bubble have produced an album that both excites and challenges us as listeners. Very much like Around, you feel like they have created a world for you to visit. Somewhere to get lost for the time you have this wonderful music in your head and heart. Lost and happy to be lost.
Follow Thought Bubble on social media here…
Header image by Harry Collison & Pete Stanley
Nick by Pete Stanley
Chris by Dan Raybould