Album Review: Tom Loffill – On the Surface

Vincent Coole 8 December 2012

Tom Loffill- On the Surface

4/5

Track to Download: ‘On the Other Side of Nothing’

There’s probably many outlandish-looking people walking round the streets of London right this moment, observing and pondering, and carrying a head full of ideas. Yet few will be quite as outlandish and wonderfully inventive as Tom Loffill. Proudly stating that he is unsigned, Loffill’s sci-fi lo-fi, warped debut, On the Surface, isn’t exactly signing into anything remotely formulaic or mainstream. It does, however, boast so many hummable tunes that even fans of Robbie Williams’ latest bubblegum hit would get them stuck in their pretty little heads.

Beginning with a foreboding riff of the mainly instrumental ‘Glue’, it gives the listener a fair idea of what’s to come as Loffill quickly goes wild with a saxophone as Captain Beefheart once did on Trout Mask Replica. It is swiftly followed by ‘On the Other Side of Nothing’: a wonderful lo-fi template with added rattling pans, choppy guitars, swooshing sounds and a bubbling drum loop provided by “Ernest”. The eclecticism of this record is mainly rooted in a wide range influences from the 70’s. Indeed, there are almost too many influential innovators to mention. Loffill is vocally close to David Byrne and musically it has an accessible experimentation reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Here Comes the Warm Jets. Elsewhere, ‘No Shops in Hell’ demonstrates the influence of Mark E Smith to the point of parody, while ‘ASOP’ is Suicide gone pop with the vocal attitude of Pattie Smith. There’s generally a ‘hit and hope’ feel on much of this record which is never supposed to work every time. Therefore not everything sticks, warranting a few numbers only likeable if you’re in the right mood to go with it.

Loffill’s alliterative, imagist lyrics read like a less-than-earnest William Burroughs; attempting to scratch the surface of everyday life and discover the absurd. As Loffill declares on the title track ‘I live a live without the edges on/ Everything is merging into everything else. Normality and the absurd are essentially indistinguishable and nothing remains on the other side of these notions. A doom-laden prospect, perhaps, but Loffill finds a giddy solace in the trivialities behind the trials. This idea is realised fully in the Orwellian ‘Luncheon State’ where lunch is great because it’s with ‘pure alcohol and wide trembling hands’. Musically, it’s really quite funky with wonderful layered textures that give it the feel of mid-70’s Bowie, and fuses many of the album’s influences to make it the album’s finest moment.

On the Surface is a fun, assured debut which steps back to what seemed like the future in 1975. Ending with a fanfare, it closes an exciting first act, and promises for a grander second part. It only remains to be seen which future Loffill offers to show us next time round.

Vincent Coole