Thomas Midgley Jr was a smart, inventive, hard-working man. When he came across a problem he didn’t shy away. He aimed always to solve the problem not just circumvent it. In many ways he was successful. He discovered a gas that made refrigeration far easier, safer and cheaper; he developed an additive for petrol to stop car engines ‘knocking’ as they did in his time; and, after he developed polio, he devised a set of ropes and pulleys that helped him get in and out of bed. He was a well-respected and honoured man. There was just one problem: all of his inventions back-fired. The fridge gas was the Chloro-Floro-Carbon (CFC) that caused a massive hole in the ozone layer; the petrol additive was tetraethyllead (lead) that wasn’t too good for our air; and the getting out of bed invention? Well, that ended up strangling this one man environmental catastrophe to death.
It’s little wonder that BATS ask “Thomas MIdgley, what have you done?” in the song bearing the American’s name as the title. “I’ve created the death of the world,” could be a bit harsh on the man however. It may be a strange topic for a song, but the Dublin five-piece are far from conventional. It’s fair to say that none of the songs on BATS sophomore effort ‘The Sleep of Reason’ are conventional.
Indeed, a considerable proportion of the album is science focused. Stem Cells sings the praises of the so-mentioned technology but also highlights the problem with it: “the fucking people” who stand in its way. For BATS “It’s time you admitted that the mind is the soul.” Astronomy, Astrology also has similarly pointed science v religion/beliefs themes, opening as it does with “What effect could something so distant have on my birth? We detect the force of the doctor’s gravity first?” before imploring us “We would do well to accept that we’re dust.” I shan’t further bore you with explanations of the underlying issues approached in Luminiferous Aether or The Fall of Bees but just mention that these are interesting topics touched upon by a clearly intelligent and conscious band.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘The Sleep of Reason’ – the very name points to frustration at ignorance of science – is only about its science-centric lyrics: BATS are a group of fine musicians. It’s the strides forward they have taken in their sound since their début, ‘Red in Tooth and Claw’, that is the most notable thing about this album. They have stuck to the progressive post-punk (their words) of their first album, and the listener is never in any doubt that it’s BATS they’re listening to, but have added polish to their hard edge tracks.
Yes, they still take sharp turns in directions you weren’t expecting but, while it eventually became tiring before, it still seems to flow here. You need look no further than the ominous, instrumental opener Emerging Properties to hear how good they now are in creating soundscapes. The interplay between the two guitars sounds fantastic throughout, especially through headphones, and the lyrics sit better with the music that ever before. At the end of Creatures Collecting, for example, the simultaneous repetition of “People die and the moss grows” and “Creatures collect and gather” over each other offers a perfectly foreboding outro. It’s heavy – with its pounding drums, filthy bass and frequent screams – and highly aggressive but there is so much to be enjoyed for those willing to dig slightly beneath the surface.
The unfortunate thing for BATS is that, like a lot of the science that they talk about, they won’t get the attention they deserve: they will more likely be drowned out by louder, crasser voices that spit nothing but rhetoric and cliché. Let’s hope that this is not the case because ‘The Sleep of Reason’ is a truly fantastic album… though things like that were said about Thomas Midgley Jr in his lifetime.