I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why the muted opening bars of Party Fears’ ‘Time in Space’ immediately caught my attention. It took a while before I could place it, but eventually I realised it’s the partial similarity to the verse melody of Blur’s monumental This Is a Low – another song with an atmosphere and a sense of time and place so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Anyway, the similarities between the two tracks end there, as almost as soon as you make the connection Maggie Devlin has already taken an abrupt turn into a staccato chorus that catches you completely off guard. There’s a nice juxtaposition between the comparatively rich warmth of a verse that yearns to be anywhere else, and the odd, disjointed coolness of the chorus with its icy dose of reality.
Lyrically Devlin seems to muse on the act of longing to be somewhere else; which is very much a theme that feels universal in 2020. The gently-jarring nature of the arrangement amplifies this sense of uncertainty too, undercut with what sounds like distant brass and theremin in places. There’s real beauty there, but sometimes it’s held back slightly out of reach. Again, it’s easy to draw parallels between this and the notion that we’ve never been so connected to each other – and yet quite as profoundly isolated in many ways – as we are now. Maybe I’m reading too much into things though. Who knows? Like most people reading this, I don’t get out much at the moment…
Anyway, it’s a really smart arrangement; beginning with electric guitar, drums, and acres of space before gradually introducing more subtle layers as the song heads towards its climax. And it’s here that things get really interesting – as instead of taking the easy, predictable option of going all-out for one last, rousing chorus (which, it must be said, would still be rather awesome) the song implodes in a way that completely surprises. It’s a wonderful thing; with guitars running backwards, lots of shifting layers, and Devlin’s vocals stacking up like some kind of otherworldly choir being dragged backwards into a black hole.
All told, ‘Time in Space’ is a gem that manages to pack an awful lot (and an awful lot of surprises) into its three-minutes-and-forty-two seconds. I’d wholly recommend doing some digging around Party Fears’ catalogue.