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The Plateau Phase (Remastered)

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Album Review

The one studio album Crispy Ambulance put out over its career, The Plateau Phase boldly aimed to stand out as an experimental rock album and achieved its goal with style and power. With tips of the hat to everyone from early-'70s Pink Floyd and aggro Krautrock to the later song-smashings of Throbbing Gristle, The Plateau Phase isn't an out-and-out masterpiece, but comes awfully close. If anything, the comparisons at the time of release to Joy Division resulted from the label association — as a singer, Alan Hempsall had a lighter tone than Ian Curtis, while Keith Darbyshire's bass is hardly trying to clone Peter Hook's inimitable surge. The Plateau Phase is certainly a dark, moody experience though, and Chris Nagle turned out to be as crucial for setting a sonic mood for the Crispies as Martin Hannett did for Joy Division. Given the similar influences, the best contemporary band to draw comparisons to might be early Public Image Ltd., but with much less dub and more general melancholy. The mix is often thick, echoing, and understated, only coming up for air with some instruments at times, if at all. Consider "Travel Time," where the brisk drum hits lead the way as the guitar, bass, and especially Hempsall quietly lurk beneath, forcing attention more closely onto them as a result. Hempsall in general has some lyrics perhaps too readily calling to mind "lost in the wilderness" post-punk scenarios already becoming clichéd, but his restrained, dreamlike delivery makes them work better than a flat, declamatory style. Even the occasional wails are set back, strange and curious to hear. Song titles — "Death From Above," "We Move Through the Plateau," "Simon's Ghost" — further heighten the dark, almost psychedelic mood. Call it goth if one wants, but there's more going on here than Batcave-inspired shenanigans. Later CD reissues included the "Live on a Hot August Night" and "Sexus" singles as bonus tracks.


Formed: 1977 in Manchester, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Inspired after witnessing gigs by the Sex Pistols and Magazine, vocalist Alan Hempsall formed Crispy Ambulance with guitarist Robert Davenport, bassist Keith Darbyshire, and drummer Gary Madeley. After several shows, including a support slot for Joy Division, they recorded their first single and contacted labels such as Rough Trade and Factory, only to be turned down. Upset but resourceful, the band released it on their own Aural Assault imprint. Rob Gretton (Joy Division's manager) was soon hired...
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The Plateau Phase (Remastered), Crispy Ambulance
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