The Moving Frontier

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Pram bring the filmic vividness that always lurked around the edges of the group's music into sharp focus on The Moving Frontier, polishing its strangeness to a camera-ready sheen without losing any of its identity. It's not surprising that Pram collaborated with filmmakers Film Ficciones, or that member Matt Eaton worked on an alternate score for the classic silent horror film Nosferatu in the years between The Moving Frontier and Dark Island, and those experiences clearly shaped this set of songs. The band goes deeper into Dark Island's quirky, spooky yet sophisticated terrain -- particularly on tracks like the bizarrely glamorous "Iske" -- but takes a more streamlined approach, offering crisply edited vignettes instead of the more amorphous feel of its previous work. Exotica, '60s and '70s electronic novelty pop, and noir-ish jazz are still major influences on Pram's music, and on their instrumentals they mimic and modernize those sounds like few other bands can: "Blind Tiger" conjures the naked city of the late '50s and early '60s with garish brass and sleazy organs, while "Beluga" fuses a sleekly mod melody worthy of Lalo Schifrin with pulsing and hissing electronics. Somewhat paradoxically, The Moving Frontier's focus allows Pram to explore more sonic locations, from "The Empty Quarter"'s elegant spaghetti Western wastelands to "Metaluna"'s frosty expanse, which sounds like a field of wind chimes blowing in the breeze, to the seductive underwater world of "Mariana Deep," where the strings sound like they're borrowed from Mantovani and the guitars billow like seaweed. The Moving Frontier's vocal tracks are just as eclectic, allowing Rosie Cuckston to play more roles than ever before: she's cryptically alluring on "Salva," intoning "Are you afraid of sugar, scared of salt?" as an odd pickup line, and strangely ancient and ominous on "City Surveyor," where she sings of a "trauma picnic" over horror show organs. The breezy, Broadcast-like "Hums Around Us," one of Pram's prettiest songs since The Museum of Imaginary Animals, finds Cuckston discovering the darkness of a sunny day, singing "people carry summer" as if it were a disease. The Moving Frontier's dazzling eclecticism lacks The Museum of Imaginary Animals and Dark Island's exquisitely sustained atmospheres, but the album's travels through Pram's many moods are just as vivid, and even more accessible, than any of their earlier work.

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