Reviews originally published in Issue 58 of Electronic Sound magazine, October 2019:
(Castles In Space)
For an album inspired by an idyllic upbringing in the medieval town of Burford, Cotswold Stone has a curiously transatlantic feel: the evocative schoolroom sounds of maracas and recorders are entwined around clipped synth-funk rhythms and sensuous, yacht rock saxophones. Never have impressions of Bourton-on-the-Water sounded more cinematic. But it’s a delightful confection, suggesting that main man Mat Handley’s 1970s Famous Five-style exploits in the Oxfordshire countryside were the perfect aperitif for an evening of John Carpenter films on BBC2.
Now based in South Yorkshire, Handley even seems to be harking back to his own childhood electronica experiments; he has spoken of sitting “in the cupboard under the stairs, with my Jen SX1000.” The album expertly juggles this musical and personal nostalgia; my stand-out track being the wistful ‘Autumn Arrives Again’, where gently-plucked guitars and a wash of reflective, analogue synths evoke perfectly the dreadful moment when the ‘Back to School’ displays appeared in your local Woolworths.
(Interview with Mat Handley here…)
(Spun Out Of Control)
Is everyone familiar with the contribution of Amanda Grayson to 20th century popular culture? She was, as any self-respecting Star Trek fan will tell you, the human mother of Mr Spock, who followed her heart to live on the desert planet of Vulcan after falling in love with the planet’s ambassador to Earth. Jan Borré ‘s album – released for Cassette Store Day – eschews any temptation towards sci-fi kitsch, instead using her story as the basis for a downbeat and moving instrumental exploration of alienation and disconnect.
Young Belgian composer Borré has worked with Spun Out Of Control before, on the soundtrack to horror film Where The Skin Lies, and his cinematic style is evident here, too. He has a striking gift for melody, with memorable, melancholic synth lines rising frequently from the ambience, and – as in the case of magnificent Side 2 opener ‘The Northern Claw’ – occasionally precipitating an explosion into celebratory, beat-laden ‘banger’ territory.
HERON & CRANE
Hailing from Ohio, Dave Gibson and Travis Kokas have previous form as garage rockers, but Firesides finds the sweet spot between that very pastoral school of Canterbury prog (they happily admit the album’s sleeve is an homage to Caravan’s 1971 opus ‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’), and British library music with a whiff of long-forgotten Open University modules. Tracks like ‘Electron Waltz’ and ‘Space Junk’ are awash with vintage Moogs, and sometimes even find a delicious Krautrock groove.
Cold War on The Rocks – Disco and Electronic Music from Finland 1980-1991
The legacy of synth pioneer Jori Sivonen – who died in July – sets the tone for this hugely enjoyable collection, with the opening three tracks (including ‘Jupiter’, purportedly named after his beloved Roland Jupiter 8) all bearing his melodic handiwork. Elsewhere, Mika Sundqvist and Jokke Sepp explore galactic synth sounds, and Visual’s ‘Big & Beautiful’ was sequenced on a Commodore 64. The upbeat, disco-fuelled schlager feel occasionally evokes memories of 1980s Eurovisions, but some of us are rather partial to that.
Mark Brend, Matt Gale and Cliff Glanfield formed Fariña in 1995, gaining acclaim for their albums ‘Three People’ and ‘Allotments’; epic collections of filmic, bittersweet chamber pop redolent of peak-era Scott Walker and Ennio Morricone. There were, quite frankly, trumpets. After splitting in 2005, the trio have reunited to record a soundtrack EP to Mark’s debut novel Undercliff, a gently beguiling tale set amid the post-hippy fall-out of 1972, in which a listless divorcee finds himself drawn into the world of sinister religious cult The Olive Grove.
“It means ‘flour’ in Spanish, I believe,” says Mark. “We just liked the sound of the word.” Unlike their two albums, The Undercliff Suite EP is entirely instrumental, with a more experimental, post-rock feel, perhaps suggesting a bold new direction for a band who seem warmly receptive to longer-term collaborations. “Reforming Fariña just seemed like a natural, logical step,” adds Mark. “I don’t recall us even discussing it that much. We just started writing together and it was if the intervening years hadn’t happened.”
Tell us more…
As Mark is keen to stress: “The music is an attempt to capture the atmosphere of aspects of the book, rather than soundtrack them in a literal sense.” Appropriate then, that the EP is quietly unsettling, with soothing, jazz-tinged brass and folk club accordion floating elegantly across beds of vintage synths provided, perhaps predictably, by Electronic Sound contributor Mark. And it culminates in the beautiful, hymn-like ‘Resurgam’, evoking images of Sir Hubert Parry let loose upon a MicroKORG.
(Interview with Mark Brend here)
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