The Bristolian musician Sebastian Gainsborough made their name with a strain of dance music that’s not really designed for the dancefloor. Their expansive, ambitious post-club compositions have drawn on everything from dubstep to post-punk in pursuit of an intelligent and often slightly contrarian sound. Their third album takes the template a step further, combining classical instrumentation with the clanging dissonance and glitchy, unnatural tempos of the internet age. The result is a record that feels pretentious – but in a good way: carefully considered and aiming towards something more philosophical than your average electro-odyssey.
Made in rural Wales over an 18-month period, Gainsborough took inspiration from a romance with a violinist, and strings of varying levels of loveliness litter the album accordingly. But it isn’t only their partner to whom they pays tribute – the majority of songs are dedicated to various muses. Torno-me eles e nau-e (For Remedios) – a mass of dour chanting that evolves into sugary vocal harmonies – is a tribute to the Spanish surrealist painter Remedios Varo; the florid techno epic Argo (For Maggie) is named after novelist Maggie Nelson.
There’s clearly a lot of erudition behind this project – although how Gainsborough’s slightly obscure name-dropping enriches the listening experience is hard to gauge. What anybody can quickly glean is that this is an album intent on sustaining a constant state of flux. Sometimes the change is gradual – Arcanum (For Christalla) opens with a tune played on what sounds like a lute that begins leisurely and ends up frighteningly frantic. Elsewhere, it’s more stark, as when Argo’s spritely strings are greeted by disorientingly syncopated percussion. But for an album that veers between the hallmarks of happy hardcore and ghostly choral incantations, Queen of Golden Dogs makes a surprisingly satisfying whole. That’s largely thanks to Gainsborough’s efforts to maintain the balance between entertainingly jarring and modernity-evoking erraticism and a gratifying sense of beauty and peace that feels age-old.