An album obsessed with what lies beyond.
Jude Rogers 2009
Summer 2009 has been the summer of space. In July, the 40th anniversary of the moon landings launched this otherworldly fever, prompting compilations of late 60s music in astronautical covers, and more focus on space rock and cosmic disco. Now, a few months later, comes an album directly inspired by one man's childhood visit to Walt Disney's Epcot Center, and his subsequent obsession about what lies beyond.
Newport Pagnell's Matthew Thomas Dillon is Windmill – a singer-songwriter who has always been fascinated with unearthly environments. His first album, 2007's Puddle City Racing Lights, was a record about Japan's tilting trains, fluorescent lights and Tokyo moons, and his peculiar, American-inflected voice – at times unpleasantly nasal, at other endearingly childlike – added to the record's strange atmosphere. Its expansive, orchestral arrangements also reminded the listener of Mercury Rev and The Polyphonic Spree, and the same is true here, but with even more pianos and keening strings adding to the atmosphere of grandeur.
Nevertheless, this mood makes Epcot Starfields rather hard to love. It is a heavily stylised record, so much so that you can bask in its beauty at one moment, then baulk at its conceitedness the next. Also, rather than presenting a new, interesting narrative about the universe, it relies on dislocated ideas that spacewalk around far too vaguely.
Occasionally, though, they are beautiful. In Airsuit we are told that "stars have seams", while on Shuttle, Dillon sings: "Remember me / The wires / They cut our wires away". Elsewhere, he sounds affectedly naive and painfully geeky. Big Boom's closing couplet – “The universe made us great / And there's still good in us" – sticks out particularly awkwardly, while comments about "prototype suits" in Sony Metropolis Stars, and "geodesic spheres" in Ellen Save Our Energy sound perilously clunky, rather than promisingly celestial.
The problem with Epcot Starfields, at heart, is its infatuation with innocence, and the wide-eyed wonder we all have about the moon and the stars. This mood is best served when it comes closer to the harsh edges of experience – as it does on Spaceship Earth, when Dillon tells us, bleakly but brilliantly, about "the blinkered hope of an afterlife".
The next time he takes a trip outside our ordinary realms, Dillon would do well to dwell on dark matter even more, rather than fade in the light.