Whether or not you think Klaxons deserved to beat Amy Winehouse and Bat for Lashes to win the 2007 Mercury prize, you have to admit it made for good telly. Visibly under the influence, the quartet seemed genuinely gobsmacked by their good fortune. Firm in the belief that an entertaining lie is preferable to a mundane truth, they then told reporters that they planned to invest their winnings in research into telepathy.
Klaxons' victorious debut, Myths of the Near Future, was partly inspired by the KLF's prankish guidebook The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), and gave the impression of a band winging it in style. The ostentatious references to JG Ballard, Thomas Pynchon and Aleister Crowley were as cosmetic as the self-assigned, tongue-in-cheek genre tag "new rave", which said more about their Day-Glo outfits and occasional covers of 90s dance hits than the actual sound of their frenetic indie-rock. But they had the melodic chops to share the joke with the rest of the class, and the album's success outstripped even the band's expectations.
Now it seems that all the talk of telepathy and the apocalyptic signifiance of 2012 might not have been just window-dressing. In recent interviews about the troubled gestation of Surfing the Void, their bright, likable frontman Jamie Reynolds has been predictably frank about rejected producers (Tony Visconti, Focus) and abandoned sessions (with Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford). But he's also been talking about experiencing biblical visions during ritual ingestion of the Peruvian hallucinogen ayahuasca, and the influence of Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. "We believe in the collective consciousness and the world shift, and the dissolving of boundaries and the bringing together of humanity, and everybody having the same objective and living together in harmony," Reynolds told one interviewer who, presumably, couldn't believe his luck. You don't get that from Scouting for Girls.
If, as the lolcats-inspired cover art might suggest, Klaxons' new enthusiasm for shamanism and leylines is just another stunt, then they're doing an excellent job of sounding like they take it seriously. Where their debut looked to the KLF, Surfing the Void's psychonautical vocabulary recalls another oddball early 90s dance act, the Shamen, who infiltrated the top 10 with talk of a "shamanic, anarchistic, archaic revival" in the days when trance acts played clubs with names like Megatripolis and expounded on the mystical importance of the number 23.
At a time when most indie bands believe in nothing more challenging than tight jeans and catchy tunes, this kind of esoterica is to be applauded, even if Surfing the Void's lyrics about "the chaos of oblivion" and "clouds of diamond dust" don't seem to add up to much at all. If only the music were as tempting. Produced by nu-metal pioneer Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot), Surfing the Void is dense and clangorous, filling every inch of space with scrawling guitars while the rhythm section bucks and heaves. The ugliest tracks, Cypherspeed and Extra Astronomical, sound like two different bands playing two different songs and accidentally ending up on the same tape. Maybe they make sense on ayahuasca.
Klaxons' overcompressed sound works best when Reynolds' airy, tuneful vocals arc above the melee. The stirring opener Echoes has the same escape velocity as earlier hits Gravity's Rainbow and Golden Skans, its vast chorus striking the right note of wide-eyed abandon. Future Memories has the full force of its Glastonbury-Stone-Circle-at-4am convictions. The Same Space is a fine psychedelic love song, even if the space-travel innuendos ("we share the same impact on arrival") make you worry that he's about to slip into the realms of Star Trek fan fiction and ask "permission to initiate docking procedure".
But it's still a turbulent ride. Such florid space-rock tendencies demand a broader canvas and a more colourful sonic palette – just ask Muse or their prog-rock forefathers. A more electronic approach might have opened up the record; instead, it sounds walled in by harsh, grumbling basslines and thick sheets of guitar. When Klaxons swap singing for nu-metal barking on the chorus of the gruesome title track, the game really is up. Nothing could be less conducive to "riding the timewave's origin" and so on than this claustrophobic racket. Psychedelia needs space to move.
The difficult second album is a cliche with truth on its side, and at times here the difficulty is all suffered by the listener. By comparison, MGMT's recent, audience-winnowing Congratulations was plain sailing. Klaxons' ambition to stand apart from the grey indie hordes, to race by in a blur of outlandish rhetoric and pupil-dilating intensity, is admirable, but there are too many road bumps on this particular trip. The dissolving of boundaries and the bringing together of humanity will have to wait a while.