Blank Pages of an Atari Pilot

This extensive belter of eighties-fashioned high-fidelity pop waits for no man, a sonic blast opens it, and the riff wouldn’t sound alien appearing in a John Hughes coming-of-age eighties movie. Visualise Jud, Molly, Emilio et all, dancing around a school library to this latest track from Swindon’s Atari Pilot.

After our glorious appraisal of their previous single Right Crew, Wrong Captain in July, they reckon I’m going to be fair on them again, but really, there’s nothing to dislike about Blank Pages. A review in which they quoted me suggesting, “this sound is fresh, kind of straddling a bridge between space-rock and danceable indie.” Here though, save the strong bassline, the space-rock element is lessened and retrospective synth-pop chimes in a racing beat, twisting this into a real grower on the ears.

Press release aptly cites “everything from Springsteen to Daft punk, Kathleen Edwards to Love,” as influences. As if Daft Punk would work with Springsteen, but if they did, I’d imagine something rather like this. And that alone, makes for an interesting sound, again akin to what Talk in Code are putting out locally, perhaps more so for this single. While we could hinge on an inglorious comeback from an eighties pop star and be thoroughly disappointed by their timeworn platitude and fame induced narcissistic attitude, nostalgia has never been so energetic and fresh when it’s channelled as an influence rather than comeback or tacky tribute act.

There’s a backstory about Atari Pilot, I may have mentioned before but worth reminding. After their debut album “Navigation of The World by Sound” in 2011, a long hiatus took in a serious cancer battle for Onze. But getting a second chance at life gave him the inspiration to get back to writing, and Atari Pilot reformed in 2018 with an acoustic set at the Swindon Shuffle. Reforming the band was actually planned from his hospital bed.

With this in mind, Onze describes the thinking behind this great song, “Blank Pages, like the other songs for the struggle, were inspired by being diagnosed with and recovering from cancer. The songs reflect the highs and lows of life and the struggles we are faced with and have to overcome to reach where we want to be.”

There’s a heartening theme of struggle in the face of change, “it’s also about trying to recognise that we can’t escape ourselves, and asks whether we can use our history and baggage to fire a brighter future,” Onze explains.

It’s a DIY production, recorded and mixed in Onze’s home studio by using Logic Pro X, but sounds stunningly professional. Atari Pilot are Onze (vox,) Paj (bass,) Frosty (guitar) and drummer Andy, and we look forward to hearing more from them. I even managed to review this one without mentioning retro-gaming:


Atari Pilot’s Right Crew, Wrong Captain

Only gamers of a certain age will know of The Attic Bug. Hedonistic socialiser, Miner Willy had a party in his manor and wanted to retire for the evening. Just how a miner in the eighties could’ve afforded a manor remains a mystery; but that erroneous flaw was the tip of the iceberg. In this ground-breaking ZX Spectrum platform game, the Ribena Kid’s mum appeared to guard Willy’s bedroom, tapping her foot impatiently. Touch this mean rotund mama and she’d kill you, unless you’d tided every bit of leftovers from the bash. Turned out, months after the game’s release, one piece, in the Attic, was impossible to collect. Until this glitch became public knowledge, players were fuming as an intolerable bleeping version of “If I was a Rich Man,” perpetually looped them to insanity.

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I swear, if I hear that tune, even some forty years on I cringe; the haunting memory of my perseverance with the impossible Jetset Willy. Music in videogames has come a long way, thank your chosen deity. Yet in this trend of retrospection I terror at musical artists influenced by these cringeworthy clunky, bleeping melodies of early Mario, or Sonic soundtracks; like techno never happened, what are they thinking of? It was with caution, then, when I pressed play on the new single from Swindon band “Atari Pilot.” I had heard of them, but not heard them. I was pleasantly surprised.

For starters, this is rock, rather than, taken from the band’s name, my preconceived suspicion I would be subject to a lo-fi electronica computer geek’s wet dream. While there is something undeniably retrospective gamer about the sonic synth blasts in Right Crew, Wrong Captain, it is done well, with taste and this track drives on a slight, space-rock tip. Though comparisons are tricky, Atari Pilot has a unique pop sound. No stranger to retrospection, with echoey vocals and a cover akin to an illustration from Captain Pugwash, still this sound is fresh, kind of straddling a bridge between space-rock and danceable indie. Oh, and it’s certainly loud and proud.

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A grower, takes a few listens and I’m hooked. Their Facebook blurb claims to “change the rules of the game, take the face from the name, trade the soul for the fame…I’m an Atari Pilot.” After their debut album “Navigation of The World by Sound” in 2011, a long hiatus took in a serious cancer battle. But Atari Pilot returned in 2018 with an acoustic set at the Swindon Shuffle. The full band gathered once again the following year with live shows and a new set of “Songs for the Struggle.” This will be the title of their forthcoming follow-up album, “When we were Children” being the first single from it, and now this one, “Right Crew, Wrong Captain,” is available from the end of July.

Its theme is of isolation, “and defiance, after the ship has gone down,” frontman Onze informs me. There’s a haunting metaphor within the intelligent lyrics, “you nail yourself to the mast and you pray that everything lasts, you just want to know hope floats, when the water rises, coz it’s gonna rise, take a deep breath and count to ten, sink to the bottom and start again.”

There’s a bracing movement which dispels predefined ideas of indie and progresses towards something encompassing a general pop feel, of bands I’ve highlighted previously, Talk in Code and Daydream Runaways, Atari Pilot would not look out of place billed in a festival line-up with these acts, and would add that clever cross between space-rock with shards of the videogames of yore, yet, not enough to warrant my aforementioned fears of cringeworthy bleeps. Here’s hoping it’s “game over” for that genre. That said, thinking back, when you bought your Atari 2600, if you recall, oldie, you got the entire package of two joysticks and those circler controllers too, as standard; could you imagine that much hardware included with a modern console? Na, mate, one controller, you’ve got to buy others separately.

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So, if decades to come we have a band called X-Box or PlayStation Pilot, I’d be dubious, but Atari gave us quality, a complete package; likewise, with Atari Pilot!


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“Static” Shuffle; Swindon Shuffle Live Streams This Saturday

If you rarely venture into Swindon, July is the month in which to make the journey. Swindon Shuffle celebrates and backs local music, since 2007 hosting a weeklong town music festival at its hottest venues; namely The Victoria, The Beehive, The Hop, The Tuppenny and Baila Coffee & Vinyl. In association with Swindon Link and the West Berkshire Brewery, last year they presented forty-four bands over the weekend, all free, and supported mental health charity MIND.

I was forgiven in thinking this year would be virtual, saving some petrol money at least, but the organisers inform me this weekend’s Virtual Shuffle is only to breeze over this gloomy, Groundhog Day isolation period, and they cross their fingers for the real thing on the 16th-19th July; crossing my toes too!

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So, yeah, but yeah, whoop-whoop, Swindon Shuffle will indeed fill this gap with plentiful live streams this Saturday 11th April, kicking off at 3:15pm. Streamed direct from their Facebook page, expect to catch all local acts; Jim Blair of Hip Route, the bearer of Devizine’s heart Miss Tamsin Quin, Mr Love & Justice himself, Steve Cox, jazz pianist, singer-songwriter Will Lawton, Harry Leigh, frontman of indie-pop outfit Stay Lunar, experimental Karda Estra project runner Richard Wileman, Onze from Atari Pilot, Joe Rose and Nash.

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Mr Love & Justice, Steve Cox

Our favourite Swindonian music journalist, the one and only Dave Franklin, if there’s another he’s a phoney, is all over helping organise this sofa bash. He states “obviously there’s more important things going on in the world right now than worrying about a local music festival, but it is also at times like these that music, art, creativity in general, helps get us through or at least offers an oasis of calm where we can retreat to and forget the day-to-day worries for a bit.”

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Karda Estra

For me personally, I’m continuing to toil with the worth of the live stream against a real gig, ponder it’s currently all we have, worry either punter or musician are forced onto the ropes when it comes to how they should be arranged and financed and have even encountered and engaged in heated debates as we scramble in the dark trying to make this work best for everyone. This said, if anyone can I’m reckoning the Shuffle team will make an amazing job of it. If there is an upside to it, it is that one can check these artists out for when the gig scene does take off, and boy, I’m predicting it’ll go off like an atomic blast, and it will encourage many to take the journey to festivals such as Swindon Shuffle, in this example.

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In the meantime, enjoy the streams and not let it miff us too much at missing the real thing. I tell myself the scene is dormant; it will erupt again. It should go without saying, but I’m going to spell it out; B, for BUY, U for Yourself (sort of,) Y for some local music, (okay, that didn’t work) Look, just support the artists and buy their music from their websites and Bandcamp sites!