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Album Review: Post Coal Prom Queen – Music For First Contact

In June 2022, electronic duo Post Coal Prom Queen closed Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival with the live debut of their new concept album: Music for First Contact. It felt like an auspicious moment, a finely crafted piece of collaborative performance art inviting us to choose our own destiny by asking: ‘If we intercepted a signal from extraterrestrials, should we respond?’ Propaganda posters plastered around the venue and political debates between songs encouraged us to consider the consequences and cast our votes.

It’s an experience that sat with me for a while afterwards. Lily Higham and Gordon Johnstone held a mirror up to our shared experience as Scottish citizens while distorting that image with the dark forest conundrums of science fiction writer Cixin Liu. Do we hide in the shadows and stagnate, or stride out into the open and face annihilation? I was curious as to how PCPQ would capture that feeling in the studio.

Their previous conceptual effort – futuristic hip-hop extravaganza Music for Hypercapitalists – employed dramatic interludes between tracks to form a cohesive narrative. Despite a similar idea having played a part in the Hidden Door version of Music for First Contact, on record the duo have simply allowed the music to do the talking.

Stephanie Lamprea’s operatic vocals create a sensation of grandeur, while Laura Wilkie’s violins, Calum Cummins’s saxophone, and Baichuan Hui’s piano inject undiluted emotional drama: hope, joy, fear, confusion, and despair. Lily’s haunting voice, Gordon’s distorted guitars and the pair’s adept use of electronics allow the instrumentals to build, surge and gain momentum, making for a deep and intensely satisfying listen.

Whilst best consumed as a complete package, there are several standout tracks. I was already obsessed with the urgent banger ‘Free Radio Phobos’ after its release last October, but shuffling neo-noir jazz infusion ‘Wheeling Through The Void’ and pounding dance floor filler ‘From Glasgow to Mars’ are equally as enchanting. The closing opus ‘Sapere Aude’ (‘dare to use your own reason’) allows for some self-reflection, conjuring feelings of terror and elation over its eight minutes. Something worth pondering: given a chance, how would you vote?

Music for First Contact will commence transmission 28th April

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