Last summer, Andrew Pettitt, David Farrell and Ulrika Bjorsne decamped from sunless Deptford to lambent California to record their second album with Danger Mouse, the self-effacing production genius behind Gnarls Barkley and the second Gorillaz album. There they availed themselves of the string arranging talents of the legendary Van Dyke Parks and the distinctive viola playing of John Cale, quaffed margaritas with the Strokes, loitered awkwardly at a Hollywood pool party and ate too much fast food. In the spirit of many a great adventure, they did it all on a shoestring.

They returned bearing REPLICA SUN MACHINE. A replica sun machine, according to
Andrew, is "a pointless copy of something you would have no need to invent". REPLICA SUN MACHINE, however, is quite the opposite: an entirely necessary invention powered by charm, imagination and scintillating melodies. This is the psychedelic pop adventure of the year, where acid-bright sunshine casts eerie shadows and illuminates uncomfortable truths. It's a gorgeous, sad and impossible-to-get-out-off-your-head trip, inspired by the beguiling bad vibes of Love's bummer-in-the-summer classic Forever Changes, the baroque pop of the Left Banke, the cinematic scope of Serge Gainsbourg, the discomforting drama of Nico's solo albums, the darkling folk of The Wicker Man, the estranging wonder of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the sumptuous sadness of forgotten MOR. The Shortwave Set was assembled in 2004, when Andrew and David heard Scandanavian siren Ulrika singing with a purloined acoustic guitar at a party. Ulrika is a formidable woman who remains splendidly aloof from interview duties. "She's emotional, responsive and impulsive," testifies Andrew. "She doesn't like the idea of saying things and having them frozen in time. She doesn't calculate; Ulrika just does." Scouring the charity shop bins for the vinyl that even the eBay sharks had shunned, David and Andrew dusted down such unpromising finds as Engelbert Humperdinck, the Waikiki Beach Boys and singing miners Millican & Nesbitt and polished them into gleaming platters upon which they could rest their finely tuned pop songs. They labeled it "Victorian funk". "We obviously are the leading exponents — the only exponents — of Victorian funk," says Andrew. "It's the collision of things that shouldn't really go together. Sometimes you see an old man dressed in a threadbare old suit but he'd have trainers on and a baseball hat. Inadvertently he'd look pretty cool, at least by Hoxton standards, but he's stumbled on it by accident."  They called their debut album The Debt Collection, referring to the debt they owed to the artists they sampled but also, more pressingly, the money they had borrowed from the bank to fund the album. Like the motley contraption pictured on the sleeve, it was driven by thrifty ingenuity, held together with sticky-tape and love. Critics detected the magpie spirit of the Avalanches, the eccentric majesty of the Beta Band and the pre-Guilty Pleasures Catholicism of Saint Etienne. "This is the discerning cafe soundtrack of the summer," trumpeted OMM. "A treasure trove of fuzzy psychedelia, jerry-built pop and seemingly limitless good vibrations," averred the Guardian. The Shortwave Set caught the ears of Goldfrapp (whom they toured with and remixed) and Moby (who claimed their reworking of Dream About Me was the best remix he had ever received). Another fan was Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, who waxed lyrical about The Debt Collection in the NME, popped in to see them at the Wireless festival ("He was in the front row; actually he was the front row"), and invited them to support Gnarls Barkley at The Hammersmith Apollo and later in Dublin. He also — and here is where things took a turn for the surreal — offered to produce their next album at his studio in Los Angeles. The trio scraped together the cash for airfares, found couches and spare rooms in which to board, and headed west. Andrew and David are glowing in their praise for their benefactor, who encouraged them to play around with a cornucopia of toy pianos, unusual guitars, vintage synthesisers and old effects. "He's one of the only producers who understands songs, looks at the bigger picture, and doesn't get obsessed with the technicalities," says David. "So many producers are just twiddlers." Danger Mouse also had some estimable friends. When songs needed strings (Replica, House of Lies, Yesterday's to Come, I Know), he called on Van Dyke Parks, famous for his work on the Beach Boys' once-lost classic Smile and, more recently, Joanna Newsom's Ys. When viola and "atmospherics" were called for (Sun Machine, Harmonia), he rang up John Cale, Velvet Underground alumnus and producer of Patti Smith, Nick Drake, the Stooges and — a Shortwave Set favourite — Nico. Parks, we learn, was "a nutter in the best possible way," a whirligig of wild ideas who lives in his dungarees like a steam engine driver. Cale worked with enthusiasm and charm, treated them to anecdotes about producing the Happy Mondays' first album, and revealed an unlikely south London connection: Cale did his teacher training down the road from Deptford in New Cross, which is where Danger Mouse also used to live. (Parks, as far as we know, has not had the pleasure of SE14.) When not sharing a studio with avant-rock legends, the band enjoyed a nightlife somewhat richer than Deptford's. One day they attended a pool party 'hanging' with Cee-Lo's entourage and dozens of Los Angelenos, all wearing considerably fewer clothes than them. Another time they found themselves drinking with dapper, actress-squiring Strokes Nick Valensi and Fab Moretti. "That was one of those moments when in my head it was like, how the fuck have we ended up here?" remembers Andrew. "We've come from our crummy little bedsits in Deptford, piecing together charity shop records and here we are in LA sipping Margaritas with the Strokes. Surreal" REPLICA SUN MACHINE — recorded in six weeks in May and June 2007 and mastered
with Howie Weinberg in New York in September — was entirely self-financed and owes its existence to goodwill and passion rather than a record company chequebook. Courted by several labels, the Shortwave Set lodged with Wall of Sound, because founder Mark Jones was the only person they met who didn't want to change a thing. And why would he? Replica Sun Machine doesn't need to be meddled with. Glitches'n'Bugs finds Andrew and Ulrika swapping lines like Nancy and Lee, Serge and Francoise or Peters and Lee. Replica inhabits the same eldritch meadows as the Wicker Man soundtrack. Now ‘Til 69 has glam-rock swagger and a "be-bop-a-lula" chorus. No Social offers the sage observation that "everyone knows that a dog dressed in clothes is still a dog." Sun Machine is harpsichord-spangled 60s hangover pop as eerie and magical as the titular creation. The Downer Song is a deceptively sweet finale with Andrew and Ulrika chorusing, "We sing the downer song/There's something wrong, there's something wrong." True enough, the album's beauty has a disquieting quality, like sunlight bleeding through faded curtains. The Shortwave Set admire albums which create their own worlds and invite the listener to spend time in them. Carving out a space between Deptford and Los Angeles, old and new, joy and melancholy, REPLICA SUN MACHINE does exactly that.