Just as his first band, Spacemen 3, took drugs to make music to take drugs to, Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember) is a record collector who ended up making collectible records. Thankfully, Kember has great taste in music—if not so much in drugs.
In the early '80s, along with Jason Pierce, Kember started Spacemen 3 and led them to cult status among heads seeking psych and drone ambrosia. Both guitarist/vocalists shared a vision (and a birthday/birthplace: November 19, 1965; Rugby, England) that encompassed rock primitivism (the Stooges, Velvets/Lou Reed), psychedelia (the 13th Floor Elevators), electronic oscillations and throbbing pulsations (Silver Apples, Delia Derbyshire, Suicide), stoned blues (JJ Cale), and minimalist drones. Spacemen 3 synthesized their excellent influences into songs that welded outward-bound sonics to honeyed melodies—proving that in deep space, you can still carry a tune, albeit a deadpan, stripped-down one. They made the sound of confusion seem like one of the best trips you could take and "Walking with Jesus" a distinct (if fuzzed-to-hell) possibility.
After three good-to-awesome full-lengths, Pierce and Kember split during the making of Spacemen 3's Recurring (1991), with the former forming Spiritualized and the latter going solo as Sonic Boom and then Spectrum, and, concurrently, the less song-oriented Experimental Audio Research (EAR).
Spectrum has been Kember's most high-profile project in America; 1997's Forever Alien even received major-label support. In his Spectrum guise, Kember lets his enthusiasm for analog synths and arcane gadgets (Speak & Spell, etc.) run riot; Spectrum LP and EP covers fetishize said gear, along with Kember's love of op art, whose orb-dazzling patterns mirror his music's effect on receptive minds. Like Silver Apples and Suicide, Spectrum keep one foot in the terra firma of structured song and another dangling out of the starship (Sun Ra reference intended). Their tracks range from the gentlest dream-weaver ballads ("Touch the Stars") to sci-fi-flick ambience ("Liquid Intentions") to euphoric electro pop ("How You Satisfy Me") to chilling paeans to LSD chemists ("Owsley") to unnerving grotesqueries ("The New Atlantis").
Spectrum's new War Sucks EP rocks harder than their past output. "Razzle-Dazzle Mind" runs the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" through a fibrillating-synth force field and Ron Asheton–homaging guitar glower. On the stoic cover of the Red Krayola's bilious anti–Vietnam War anthem "War Sucks," Spectrum augment the original's relentless, ominous riff with Iannis Xenakis–like tone-scarifying. Unsurprisingly, this tune is as relevant now as it was when Mayo Thompson and company wrote it in the late '60s.
Spectrum—also featuring guitarist Jason Holt, bassist Nolan Watkinson, and drummer Roger Brogan—promise a retro-futurist whirl through their (and Spacemen 3's) catalog of analog-synth symphonies and stardusted rock revisionism.
This article has been updated since it was originally published