The Telescopes' 2017 album, As Light Return, is an almost 180-degree turn from their previous album, Hidden Fields. That record was their most song-based effort in years, with melodies and hooks poking out through the gnarly waves of guitar noise. In contrast, As Light Return is an almost unbroken wall of guitar noise, with nary a song to be found. Stephen Lawrie is joined by members of the band St Deluxe and together they craft an oppressive, claustrophobia-inducing album made up of tortured guitar drones and feedback, a rhythm section that sounds like it's stripping its gears, deeply buried vocals, and an overall feeling that lands several stops past menacing. Four of the five tracks break the seven-minute mark and only the slightly shorter "You Can't Reach What You Hunger" comes close to resembling a song. It's a far cry from Hidden Fields, but it's in line with things the Telescopes have done before. Lawrie has always been a restless musician with a need to experiment and push boundaries. When he wanted to make a pop album, it was the most shimmering and bright thing ever (1992's self-titled album); when he wants to make something more abstract and stark, As Light Return is the result. It's gloomy, bleak, forbidding, and not much fun to listen to, but it's impressive all the same. The undulating white noise is off-putting at first, but once you surrender to the harsh reality of it, the effect can be soothing in a strange way. Listening to the four-part suite that makes up the bulk of the album is like crawling inside the shuddering hull of a giant piece of industrial machinery, being pummeled unmercifully, and then taking a long, dreamless nap. Not something one would want to do every day, but for when that experience seems like the best course to choose, Lawrie and his collaborators have you covered. As Light Return might not be the most inventive or exciting record the Telescopes have made over their long career of defying expectations, but it is the purest expression of their dark and twisted, noise-battered souls, and for that reason alone it is worth hearing at least once.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra