SFF Song of the Week: Paul Raven

I shared a panel last October at the Sci-Fi London Festival in Greenwich with the delightful Paul Raven, a writer, blogger, webguy and music critic, who has chosen a wonderfully evocative piece for this week.  Paul is:

Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Futurismic – near-future science fiction webzine
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Dreaded Press – rock music reviews webzine

Publicist and PR officer for PS Publishing – the UK’s foremost boutique genre publisher

Paul clearly has several doppelgangers to get all that done, and one of them wrote this:

Paul Raven writes:

Heavy rock and science fiction have a relationship that goes way back, long before I was even born… though, truth be told, both fields of endeavour had a habit of showing one another in the worst possible light. Or maybe that’s just hindsight, my own generational lenses distorting what went before like a fun-house mirror, making serious statements into figures of fun through the heat-haze of time?

But I digress… I have a tendency to ramble, you see. Perhaps that’s why I’m so fond of sprawling epic music? Sure, I like a short sharp blast of punk energy or heavy metal power as much as the next man, but given the choice I’ll always pick the long tunes with the slow build – the tunes with dynamics, atmosphere, and a certain mind-expanding hugeness. Music with space, in other words, whether that space be inner or outer (or both). Few bands fit the bill quite as well as Mancunian three-piece Amplifier, whose lyrics often reflect the science fictional feel of their music.

And no song by Amplifier fits the bill better than “UFOs”. Like most of their songs, “UFOs” has no distinct narrative or story, but the lyrics and the music combined do something that very few musicians have ever managed for me – they evoke sensawunda. Remember that first addictive experience with science fiction when you were young? That first time you put down a book with the feeling that you’d had your head expanded to more ably contain the ideas and vistas it handed you? That first time you realised how small a thing you really are, in a universe so inconceivably immense? That’s sensawunda, at least by my definition, and no matter how many times I listen to “UFOs” I get that same feeling of inner expansion, as the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like missiles preparing to launch, and my heart skips erratic like an irregular quasar thumping out its mysterious message from a million million million years in the past.

But enough of my chatter – let’s let the band do the talking. Two things to note: firstly, “UFOs” is not a pop song, or even a ‘regular’ rock song in format. There is no instant hook, no verse-chorus-verse-bridge-verse-chorus-coda structure. It’s a slow builder, a journey, a trip – so give it time to grow. The pay-off is worth it, I promise you.

Secondly, there’s no ‘proper’ video – Amplifier are too small a band to have videos for their more obscure album tracks – but the beauty of their style is that you can (and should) provide your own, projecting what you hear onto the deep black screen of your own closed eyelids. So set aside eight minutes, crank the volume as loud as you can without distressing your neighbours, press play, and then sit back with your eyes closed. “We’ll all be waiting for you here.”


Oh, have you heard the news from outer space?
It seems that somewhere in the ancient dunes
of silver moons, like giant spoons lie dusty tombs
of Martian men in U-boat pens…
and they will come to kill us all.

‘Cause our plastic factories
and our catastrophic theories

are all we have / we live our lives from paper bags, and
I know better than you know -
I’ll kill you ’cause you drive too slow!
Aggressive instincts will do us in, yeah…
just give us the chance for us to prove it ourselves.

(Don’t you know that all machines sink?

Do you know they sing as they think?

Although their bodies are electric…

Don’t you know that all machines think?)

So we laid back and we watched space revolve
the bodies of astronauts long cold
blinking like lonely satellites…
Where we left vapour trails through cotton skies -
come on, let’s scratch the heavens one last time!
‘Cause we’re all sinking in the sunshine
and though you’d love to stay,
well, you said you must be on your way
to where the rainbows and UFOs
fall ten at a time
in a shower of glitter and gold…

… we’ll all be waiting for you here.

Note from Phil: Paul suggested closing your eyes, but I like to listen to the track while looking at this:

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