Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 63)

Reviews originally published in Issue 63 of Electronic Sound magazine, March 2020:

RORY MOHON
Darkly Dreaming
(Burning Witches)

HUNTER COMPLEX
Dead Calm and Zero Degrees
(Burning Witches)

This is, quite literally, the sound of your nightmares. Rory Mohon‘s Darkly Dreaming was inspired by its LA-based composer’s desire to create aural evocations of troubled sleep, of a “soft pressure on the chest of the listener… of being weighed down slightly by a heavy blanket” as he puts it, rather menacingly, in the sleeve notes. The resulting seventeen, synth-heavy vignettes have a distinctly cinematic feel; perhaps not surprisingly, given that Mohon cites the electronic soundtrack to 2011 Ryan Gosling film Drive as a musical Road to Damascus turning point.

There are unexpectedly upbeat moments. ‘Dirt Roads and Firelight’ boasts clattering beats and a throbbing bassline: a high-speed escape, perhaps, from the guttural, subliminal mutterings that permeate the sinister ‘Zodiac’. But when the album descends into deeper realms of the unconscious, it becomes truly affecting. ‘Day Turns To Night’ sees impressionistic, Boards of Canada-style wooziness slowly subsumed by dark slabs of ambience, while ‘Apparitions’ is surely the fleeting, frustrating joy of being visited, in sleep, by those long since departed from the corporeal world. And ‘Everything at Halfspeed’ is the best-ever musical interpretation of attempting to flee unspecified nastiness through a world suddenly consisting entirely of treacle.

Album available here: https://burningwitchesrecords.bandcamp.com/album/darkly-dreaming

Darkly Dreaming is part of Burning Witches’ 2020 vinyl subscription scheme, as is Dead Calm and Zero Degrees, a more bombastic offering from Dutch producer Lars Meijer, in his guise as Hunter Complex. Described as a “twin record” to 2019’s Open Sea – itself an imagined soundtrack to William Gibson’s Neuromancer novel – it shares its predecessor’s open love of Moroder-esque film scores, and may elicit a misty tear from those whose teenage years were defined by the sound of a Yamaha DX7 in full flight. Or, indeed, the sight of Jennifer Beales in legwarmers. ‘Bitter Cold’ in particular is joyously anthemic, the lost theme to some typically widescreen overcoming-of-odds.

Elsewhere, there is more reflective material. ‘Steel Dynamics’ begins as pure Blade Runner homage, and ‘Hot Streets’ has hints of Vangelis too: a wistful, melancholy shimmer of a daydream. But it’s Meijer’s love of mid-1980s excess that is gloriously overwhelming, and every rumble of a vintage Linn Drum feels both heartfelt and heartwarming. Great fun.

Album available here:
https://burningwitchesrecords.bandcamp.com/album/darkly-dreaming

THE RELATIONS
Evocation
(Castles In Space)

The burgeoning love affair between contemporary electronica and the delicate strangeness of the English countryside continues to blossom, and Brighton’s Neil Hale has pledged his troth with this organic, melodic and rather beautiful paean to all matters rustic and weird. Fluttering synths and jazz pianos float idly around the mellifluous folk guitars of regular collaborator Stuart ‘Pilote’ Cullen, with the breathy, wordless vocals of Penny Ashby adding delicious hints of the ethereal.

Hale’s previous work as Correlations has occasionally veered towards the gently pastoral, but the presence of Cullen, Ashby and multi-instrumentalist Tim Young plants him squarely into a world of magic, maypoles and ancient myth. That feel reaches its zenith on the spectral ‘See Through Squares’, where Young’s accordion leads the dance into a gently hypnotic reel; and the winding, serpentine ‘Truth Will Follow You’, which could almost be an off-kilter Clannad. An album as fragile as gossamer, but with shadows lurking behind the hedgerows.

Album available here:
https://correlations-cis.bandcamp.com/album/evocation

JON BROOKS
How To Get To Spring
(Clay Pipe)

A sensitive meditation on the passing of winter and the bone-thawing respite of the months to follow, Brooks‘ fourth album for Clay Pipe unfolds with a sense of beguiling calmness entirely in keeping with the restorative properties of the season itself. The mood is dreamlike, almost hallucinogenic: drifting mellotrons and gently-plucked guitars creep unobtrusively from the retreating shadows, the hypnotic piano lines of ‘Dreaming and Further Still’ the perfect evocation of boundless, late-morning sleep.

There is a beautiful stillness here. And intriguing hints of Gaelic inspiration, too: ‘Sìorraidh’ takes its title from a poetic sense of the eternal and everlasting, and ‘Neist Point’ is the most westerly headland on the Isle of Skye. And both are as warmly, melodically invigorating as their titles suggest. An album of low sun and pale skies, of hard ground and budding leaves. But, most touchingly of all, an album of hope, renewal, and faith in the future.

Album available here:
https://cafekaput.bandcamp.com/album/how-to-get-to-spring


Jon Brooks interview here:
https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/04/03/jon-brooks-shapwick-and-how-to-get-to-spring/

ALI WADE
Microhumans
(Frequency Domain)

Ali Wade‘s second album for his own Frequency Domain label is one of fascinating contradictions. “Tensile contemplation and melancholia” is his own description; but the drone-fuelled ambience frequently finds counterpoint in bright, shimmering melody. And yet, for every gently reflective piece like ‘Teething’, there’s a ‘Citizens of Our Starswarm’, which – despite taking its title from a Terence McKenna homily to magic mushrooms – has a sinister, sci-fi feel.

In fact, the sci-fi influence is strong: Wade admits the works of J.G. Ballard and Arthur C. Clarke were weighing heavily on his mind during the album’s gestation. And the throbbing, unsettling ‘My Mind Laid Out Before Me’ references the plight of a robot scientist dissecting its own brain, the crux of a Ted Chiang short story. Wade’s own descent into depression, and his subsequent recovery, were factors too; and the resulting contrast between light and shade on this immersive album is appropriately affecting.  

Album available here:
https://frequencydomain.bandcamp.com/album/microhumans

PULSE: Roman Angelos

Who he? 

The lounge lizard alter-ego of New York library music obsessive Rich Bennett, whose new 11-minute album Spacetronic Lunchbox is a collection of hilarious, bossa nova-infused, retro-futurist vignettes. Quite frankly – and no other word will suffice here – it’s groovy. “That genre creates its own secret world, with so many hidden things along the way to unlock,” says Bennett. “So you learn that Sven Libaek is an amazing Juilliard-trained composer, who also wrote all that groovy background music for ‘Scooby Doo’.” See? That word, again…

Why Roman Angelos?

I was watching the dinner entertainment on an overnight ferry to Croatia,” explains Bennett. “There was an older gentleman playing a very shoddy, modern Casio keyboard, and he just seemed so tired and bored. Beaten down by life. I remember thinking ‘What if this guy is secretly some amazing composer, but his whole life has been a series of mishaps that resulted in him never being recognized?'” Thus, Roman Angelos was born.

Tell us more…

“It’s an imaginary 1950s sitcom, where they have a robot maid that the older son has an awkward crush on…” says Bennett of the hilarious ‘I’m In Love With The Family Robot’. Elsewhere, ‘Highway Chase’ evokes images of Don Johnson wrestling with the wheel of a careering Ferrari Daytona, and if you can hear ‘Please Hold The Elevator’ without imagining a soft-focus Cybill Shepherd striding purposefully into a lift filled with middle-aged executives nervously adjusting their ties, then you clearly haven’t watched as much vintage television as the composer of this gloriously daffy collection. Let’s use the word “groovy” one final time, and be done with it.

Album available here:
https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/spacetronic-lunchbox

Electronic Sound – “the house magazine for plugged in people everywhere” – is published monthly, and available here:

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

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