Editors find the ghosts in the machine

The latest Editors album puts synths in the foreground, but the band is still just four guys playing instruments

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      It’s pretty clear right from the start that In This Light and on This Evening is not going to be just another Editors record. The album kicks off with the title track, which, for its first half, is little more than an ominously pulsating wash of keyboards with singer Tom Smith’s portentous vocals on top. Without warning, the beat kicks in, powered by Russell Leetch’s overdriven bass and what sound like radar blips. And then the next song, “Bricks and Mortar”, begins, with feather-light synthesizer hovering above a steady beatbox pulse seemingly lifted from a Kraftwerk track.

      It’s a surprising departure from the first two Editors discs—2005’s The Back Room and 2007’s An End Has a Start—which established the English four-piece as a purveyor of doom-flavoured postpunk and a pretender to Joy Division’s long-vacant throne. Four or five years ago, most reviewers compared Editors to the like-minded Interpol. This time out, they’re more apt to cite Depeche Mode. In This Light and on This Evening still sounds like a rock ’n’ roll album, albeit one bolstered by the icy wall of synths and drum machines. The aforementioned “Bricks and Mortar” builds to an anthemic chorus, as does “Papillon”, a propulsive synth-rock number that sounds like an “Enjoy the Silence” B-side.

      “A lot of people have called it electronic, but I’ve been shying away from that a little bit,” says Editors drummer Ed Lay, reached in London, where he and his bandmates are “mucking about” in a recording studio. “I don’t feel that it’s necessarily all that much an electronic record. That brings to mind very uneventful, sort of computer-based records, and this isn’t one of them. This isn’t just like a modern dance record. It’s got more feeling to it. A lot of the electronics were actually samples of us playing things live and resampling them and changing the sound around, and then feeding them back into a live performance. It’s more like machines being played by us four guys in a room, which gives it far more of a human feel.”

      So, what happened to the guitars? Did the band just get tired of the racket made by electric six-strings, relegating guitarist Chris Urbanowicz to a new role pressing keys and twirling knobs?

      “I don’t think we got sick of the sound of them,” Lay says. “We wanted to change their role within our music, for this record specifically. Before, they were very much at the forefront of the tunes.

      “The guitars are still there,” the drummer continues, “and certainly in some cases they’re really prominent, maybe overly prominent, like in the song called ”˜You Don’t Know Love’, there’s a guitar riff that cuts the song in half. And that was meant to be a real point of focus. We wouldn’t have been able to get that if there were hundreds of guitars stacked up on the record, so it was more about finding a space to put everything in.”

      Guitars also pop up elsewhere—providing some gritty texture to the airy keyboard strata of “The Boxer” and “Walk the Fleet Road” and searing through the otherworldly digital haze of “Like Treasure”—but they’re woven seamlessly into the overall aesthetic of the record, rarely drawing undue attention to themselves.

      To help strike such a fine balance between the organic and the synthetic, Editors recruited producer Mark “Flood” Ellis, whose impressive list of credits includes such classic LPs as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Tender Prey, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, the Smashing Pumpkins’ Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and, of course, Depeche Mode’s Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion.

      “I’d always wanted to work with Flood,” says Lay. “One of my favourite records growing up was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. That was when I first became aware of production, I guess—that there was somebody behind the way they put together the sound. So from that moment onwards I knew Flood and [Mellon Collie coproducer Alan] Moulder. Those were the producers that I knew. And to be working with him—well, for him to be available, first off—it was like, ”˜This is incredible; we’ve got the opportunity to work with him.’ And he got excited about the direction we were heading with our demos, so it worked out incredibly well.”

      That new aesthetic has necessitated some changes in the way the group approaches its live performances—all those keyboard stands take up a lot of room, after all—but Lay says anyone with a soft spot for “Munich” or “Bullets” or “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” or any other guitar-driven Editors oldie shouldn’t be scared off.

      “We’re set up quite differently,” the drummer says. “We’ve got a lot more gear. We’ve got almost double the amount of stuff that we used to have up on-stage. But we’re varying it. We didn’t want to redo any of the old songs in the new direction that we’ve chosen. We want them to be highlights of the set in their own way and not be swamped by us trying to screw about with them too much.”

      Editors play the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday (February 6).