Before fully discussing anything about Gunship at length, it’s worth looking at the development process and eventual outcome of Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One from earlier this year. The rights to Ernest Cline’s novel were first obtained in 2010, but given the volume of pop culture references within it, spanning music, films, TV shows, video games and more from the ‘70s right up to the present day, it took an extra several years to secure the rights to this copyrighted material, even if it would only appear in the actual film as the most minor of details in one scene. As for the finished product itself, it’s fine as a pretty standard sci-fi film, but one of the key criticisms it received (besides being a film that puts nerd culture on such a high pedestal that was seen to essentially validate the behaviour of gamers during the Gamergate controversy) was that references took precedence over anything else, and were used as a ploy to distract from what was, at its heart, a very basic, rote YA adaptation.
And that ultimately leads to Gunship, the electronica side-project of Fightstar’s Alex Westaway and Dan Haigh who, from the hearty adoption of the synthwave sound to the neon-soaked vaporwave aesthetic, have made their adoration of the ‘80s no secret. That’s not necessarily new in electronic music either, and while Dark All Day itself stands as an embodiment of that, it’s the amount of supplementary material that’s come bundled with that’s garnered the most attention, like the features from Altered Carbon author Richard K. Morgan and Star Trek’s Wil Wheaton. That’s just the surface as well, and when digging into Dark All Day reveals even more cameos and callbacks to various spheres of pop culture, the Ready Player One syndrome begins to set in for an album whose auxiliary methods of fuelling its aesthetic supersede the actual music almost entirely, and that doesn’t make for a listen that resonates a great deal. Put it this way – it can’t be a coincidence that there’s a song on here called Art3mis & Parzival.
And sure, it’s very possible to distance all that from the actual music, but even then, Dark All Day has cracks that continue to show. For one, it’s way too long at over an hour, and when the majority of tracks here are individually the sort of huge, implacable sonic tableaux that greatly limit their own movement, it can be a real slog to get through. Sure, the analogue synths are cool, and when used in interesting ways like the low, ominous bubbling of The Drone Racing League or the gentler recreation of ‘80s power ballad swell on the cover of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time, these are good, enjoyable moments. But distinction like this is something that Gunship desperately lack, and especially towards the end during the umpteenth iteration of the same choppy synths and crashing beats, the spark is well and truly lost. And it sort of feels like Gunship know this as well, and thus their references try to serve as the placeholder for musical memorability by shoving whatever sort of touchstone possible in. Still, when it comes to what are essentially partial retellings of the plots of The Lost Boys on the title track or, of course, Ready Player One on Art3mis & Parzival, it feels like a band lacking in ingenuity of their own, instead resorting to a tactic that, when used as sparingly as it is here, feels like an unworkable gimmick.
Of course, the argument can be made that Gunship aren’t really doing anything different from an artist like Carpenter Brut and his co-option of blatant ‘80s sounds and aesthetics, but the difference is that this is much more than that. Gunship have the look and the sound, sure, but they’ve essentially based their entire identity on regurgitated pop culture references, and that great mitigates what they can do of their own accord. As such, it leaves Dark All Day as a supremely unfulfilling listen, both in terms of composition that lacks the variety for what it wants to be, and in content that tries to make up for it but only serves to magnify the gaps in Gunship’s operation even further. It’s not even that this is beyond saving either, but at the minute, Dark All Day remains severely limited in how much enjoyment can be gleaned from it.
For fans of: Carpenter Brut, John Carpenter, Magic Sword
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dark All Day’ by Gunship is out now on Horsie In The Hedge.