Take flight to insane places

09 June 2020

I’ve followed Warm Digits since hearing legendary DJ Andrew Weatherall play ‘Trans-Pennine Express’ from their debut release, calling it ‘machine funk kraut-a-delia’. So it was quite a surprise to open my email on a Monday morning and find one from band member Steve Jefferis who, it turns out, is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, as well as being one half of Warm Digits alongside Andrew Hodson. 

The duo released their new album ‘Flight of Ideas’ on Memphis Industries on 3 April: ‘in the middle of lockdown, alas,’ Jefferis told me, ‘curtailing our ability to tour and promote it. But it still seems to have found an audience. It's a very loose concept album using moments and ideas from post-war psychology as a lens through which to see the present day.’

The album wears those psychology influences on its sleeve: it’s not every day you come across titles such as ‘False positive’ and ‘Replication’. As such, it’s grappling with psychology’s recent methodological soul searching, asking the question: when we all think our ideas are right, what are the costs of never believing you could be wrong? What happens when ideas outlive their sell-by date? One of several vocal guests, Maximo Park’s Paul Smith, asks on ‘Fools tomorrow’ ‘How long can a fact last?’ ‘You make me rethink my method… Belief is not a substitute for the facts’, he warns. ‘What was true today might make us look like fools tomorrow’. Being able to accept you’re wrong can change your life.

Other vocal contributions come from The Lovely Eggs, The Orielles, Rozi Plain and the Delgados’ Emma Pollock, against a backdrop of agit-funk, synth-bounce, guitar noise and motorik space-disco. As a sucker for krautrock I must admit that I favour their instrumental tracks, such as ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’. But then we would miss out on the psychological references. ‘The View From Nowhere’ concerns two people working out their closeness and distance, the title a reference to the way psychoanalysts historically kept themselves a ‘blank screen’ with their patients, as if they could take a ‘view from nowhere’ and be wholly objective in what they saw. ‘Feel the Panic’ is inspired by Rosenhan’s ‘being sane in insane places’ experiment, which argued that the power wielded by psychiatrists' diagnoses was dangerously capricious, and that in some instances the treatment induced precisely the psychic distress they sought to classify. ‘Are you infallible, or just gullible? We’re waiting here to find you out. The people here with me will gladly set me free, but you’re the ones with all the clout,’ Pollock sings. 

‘Flight Of Ideas’ itself is a psychological term for a state of overloaded and disordered thought, ‘whose relevance to our current information landscape hardly needs to be pointed out’ say the band. ‘In an increasingly off-kilter world where reality shifts daily, truth is merely what we decide it to be, and an avalanche of identities overwhelms us with possibility, it can feel like our lives are careering towards chaos down a one-way street. Do we “Feel The Panic” or “Shake The Wheels Off”? Flight Of Ideas calls to our past experience for answers…’

- Reviewed by Dr Jon Sutton, Managing Editor of The Psychologist, who will be adding Steve Jefferis to his growing list of ‘Psychologists who rock’.