Chemtrails – Calf of the Sacred Cow

Whenever I listen to Chemtrails, I get that feeling of vaguely recognising something. The face of an actor who plays in another film, a snippet of a melody that has jumped from one song to another, a location I must have been to when I was young. And you know how they say that there are two possibilities, either there is intelligent life in outer space, or there we’re the only ones, and both hypotheses are equally scary? Well, something similar is the case here. Either memory serves me well, and there is a past scene that corresponds to the present one, or the brain skips a beat, like a déjà vu, and it’s created a copy without an original. The first option is youth, and the second is timelessness, and there is a tension between them.

Take timelessness first. Whatever band name springs to mind first when you listen to Chemtrails, the way they twist melodies is timeless: it’s the Strokes, but also the Beatles, and also the songs they sang in the lizard empire that roamed the earth aeons ago. Chemtrails are tapping right into that. There’s also something particularly timeless about Mia Lust’s voice, a bit nasal and ever so slightly distorted, somewhere in-between low quality 60s records and 21st century post-production. On top of that, the record bursts with inexhaustible energy, an unreal source of lust and life that would long have run out in real time. As the last track ‘Overgrown’ evokes images of places long-forgotten, the band sounds as if they’re driving off into the horizon, where it’ll take them forever to disappear.

And then there’s youth. In that sense, Calf of the Sacred Cow feels like 2010. It’s a more solid version of MGMT, a sequel to Avi Buffalo. Which is not to say that the songs are derivative, and indeed if we’re measuring in terms of tunes then Chemtrails surely beats them all. The first track on the album is called ‘A Killer Or a Punchline’, and it is both. But what is our youth, really? Is it endless summers, first kisses, fast cars and nightswimming? No – that stuff is all made up, it’s a film. In reality, youth is a wheel of fortune alternating between tedious and intense. It is in a permanent state of flux, a confused lifeform trying to figure out its own identity. In Chemtrails’ words, it is ‘A Beautiful Cog in the Monolithic Death Machine’. 

But the thing is, youth and timelessness are easy to confuse. The first records you really listen to, after all, are like an anchor that connect that moment to the rest of your life, which will sail out in front of you. That’s my 2010, my zero. And youth does often seem endless, in many ways. It’s endless because you’d wish it to be over. It’s endless because you used to have too much time on your hands, and where has it all gone? But to conflate the two is a confusion. Our younger selves are not frozen in time: we’re carrying them with us in our memories. And so the question becomes: what is it that Chemtrails’ music reminds me of? A blast from the past, or a moment outside of time?

Chemtrails exist in that space between the past and nowhere; they’re driving on a road with a beginning but no end (and they’re driving fast!). They sing songs from the future, but they’ve also traveled back in time to implant them in our memories (and I’m sure I’ve written this before). Finally, let’s not forget that Chemtrails move around in the here and now, because the thing that reminds you is more important than the thing that it reminds you of (and I’ll end with that).

Calf of the Sacred Cow is out now via PNKSLM Recordings. We’re putting on Chemtrails at Oxford’s Library Pub on the 8th of March – see here for tickets and more info.

-- Caspar Jacobs, February 12, 2018