Reviews originally published in Issue 61 of Electronic Sound magazine, January 2020:
THE SOULLESS PARTY
The Black Meadow Archive: Vol 1
(Castles In Space)
Some artists create a distinctive sound, others an accompanying persona and backstory. Kev Oyston and Chris Lambert have gone one further: their ‘Black Meadow’ project has seized control of a real-life area of the North York Moors and used it as the backdrop for a deliberately confusing, unsettling multi-media mix of disturbing folklore and Cold War paranoia.
The story, as pieced together from a deluge of books, recordings, school plays (no, really) and “found” 1970s Radio 4 documentaries: in the shadow of RAF Fylingdales a mysterious village, trapped in a pre-industrialised web of sinister superstition, appears sporadically from the mist. Here, tales of ‘The Blackberry Ghost’ and the sinister ‘Ticking Policeman’ have attracted paranormalists and academics alike, one of whom – York University’s Professor Roger Mullins – disappeared on the moor in 1972, and has never been seen since.
Oyston and Lambert don’t so much muddy the waters of fact and fiction as stir them manically with a bloody great stick: there’s a even a commemorative plaque on the moor, marking Mullins’ ongoing absence from his faculty. This new album, primarily by Oyston but accompanied by Lambert’s book of the same title, continues to explore the story with a scale that feels more epic than previous instalments. ‘The Village Under the Lake’ is a sweeping, orchestral overture with banks of synthetic, otherworldly choirs, impressively echoing the cinema work of John Williams, and ‘A Voice in the Heather’ is similarly filmic.
Meanwhile, ‘Ghost Planes’ reverts to haunted type, with the crackle of analogue MOD communications and the rumble of discontented synths soundtracking Mullins’ investigations into a mysterious aircraft, seemingly spiralling backwards through time. And ‘Song of the Meadow Bird’ is an disquieting, pastoral delight, all ersatz harpischords and flutes, the half-forgotten theme to some spooky 1970s BBC childrens’ drama.
The bleakness of the moorland landscape pervades throughout, providing an grim undercurrent to the mischief of Oyston and Lambert’s creations. It’s a concoction forged from Quatermass and Pertwee-era Doctor Who, riddled with a laudable desire to terrify and bamboozle in equal measure. Lambert describes himself as a “a teacher, a writer and a liar”, and Oyston’s music has a similarly evasive but twinkly-eyed quality. There’s dark magic up on those moors.
Interview with Chris Lambert here:
(Spun Out Of Control)
The task of using ambient synths to evoke a remote, lawless existence in the 19th Century Canadian Rockies almost requires a certain frontier spirit in its own right, but Swiss-based composer Rupert Lally pulls it off with some aplomb. Soundtracking his own short story – in which a bungled stagecoach robbery leads to blood sacrifice in a cursed mining town – he creates a darkly atmospheric collection, effortlessly redolent of snow-covered mountainsides and ominous, approaching hoofbeats.
Discordant strings and pulsating Berlin School rhythms drive the bleakness. But there’s tenderness too, with piano-led highlight ‘Recovery’ seeing anti-hero Jack Delaney finding solace in the arms of the grieving widow who believes him to be her missing husband. And also deserving credit is Spun Out Of Control’s regular artist Eric Adrian Lee, whose cover designs have become an integral part of the label’s aesthetic; his filmic artwork for The Prospect perfectly complementing this grand, cinematic album.
Interview with Rupert Lally here:
7 Nocturnes East
“What started out as an exercise in simplicity has ended up as my biggest project,” says Guernsey DJ and producer Flexagon, contemplating how 7 Nocturnes East began life as a meditative quest to capture the found sounds of his native island coastline on a series of solo walks in the smallest hours of the morning. The results are a collection of ambient vignettes that evoke perfectly the drowsy, otherworldly qualities of those liminal moments between midnight and sunrise. And indeed, the tense stand-off between Guernsey’s rugged countryside and the creeping march of development.
So ‘Spur Point 3am’ combines the hissing rain of a passing storm with a chiming lament for this wild place under threat; whereas ‘Mont Crevelt 4am’ weaves the sound of diggers and hollering workmen – labouring overnight in the harbour – with a woozy, hypnotic drone. Flexagon’s soothing brand of organic electronica proves utterly beguiling and rather touching, and the album’s release coincides with an accompanying exhibition of artwork from the Guernsey Arts Commission.
THE HOME CURRENT
Coal Pit Zen
Martin Jensen shows little signs of slowing down, citing a worrying – but thankfully fleeting – health scare as the impetus for a breathtaking burst of activity. But whereas previous albums Palermo Traxx Vol 2 and An Evening With took 1990s clubland as their inspiration, ‘Coal Pit Zen’ (named after his recuperative mental state) is a more laid-back affair, with graceful beats meeting Orb-style ambience. And album closer ‘The Dragon in the Window’ exudes a feeling of gentle euphoria, the perfect encapsulation of Jensen’s sense of rebirth.
PULSE: Jangly Mark
His name is Mark. And he is jangly. He’s from Swansea, and his new TV EP is a collection of wonderfully deadpan Ivor Cutler-esque monologues, focusing largely on the tribulations of trying to get English language programmes on his portable telly in the early 1980s. “I’ve always been a bit of an indoor type,” he confesses. “I also have a curious mind and, especially as a kid, would experiment to try to find out how things worked. Or, as would often be the case at that age, break things…”
Why Jangly Mark?
“As my moniker suggests, my first love is indie-pop,” he admits, describing the fuzzy, analogue electronica of the new EP as “something of a departure”. But it’s marvellously evocative of the era, combining drifting, radiophonic soundscapes with engineering test tones and blasts of white noise. “I could get a weak signal from the Mendip transmitter,” he drawls pithily on ‘DX’, the EP’s opening track proper. “One morning, I woke up to find channels appearing that hadn’t been there before…” Rod Serling, eat your heart out.
Tell us more…
Elsewhere, there are ruminations on being traumatised by both Threads, and the blanket news coverage of 9/11. Meanwhile ‘The Morning After The Party’ is a glorious (and true) memory of navigating his way home from a drunken soirée in an unfamiliar house by noting the angles at which nearby rooftop TV aerials were pointing at the local transmitters. And the whole wonderfully strange kaboosh has an ultra-limited release on microcassette, the diddy tapes once ubiquitously used for office Dictaphones. “I like things that are a bit unusual”, he comments, perhaps unsurprisingly.
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