Reviews originally published in Issue 67of Electronic Sound magazine, July 2020:
Azure (Castles In Space)
Flora (Castles In Space)
Have sympathy for Stephen James Buckley, holed up in his Lancashire mini-studio. Overwhelmed by a childhood of lurid 1970s and 1980s science fiction and fantasy films, the man now known as Polypores seems unable to process everyday experiences without passing them through a filter of overactive imagination. 2019 album Flora, inspired by woodland walks during the blistering heat of the previous summer, became a concept album concerned with the outlandish vegetation of an alien world. And new follow-up Azure, influenced by the depressingly rainy weather of last autumn, is an immersive mediation on all things tropically aquatic.
It’s an otherworldly, undersea musical journey worthy of Jacques Cousteau. Opening track ‘Bathysphere’ plunges us beneath the waves of some unspecified Polynesian paradise into a blissful, amniotic ocean of melodic modular synths. ‘Among Sunken Stone Heads’ tinkles and caresses with an evasive magic, whereas ‘Island’ introduces Pacific rhythms and sun-baked ambience. Buckley claims he was listening to a welter of vintage New Age releases during the album’s conception, and album closer ‘Source’ wears the influence proudly; a soothing tapestry of trickling water, exotic birdsong and floating synth lines.
The album forms a sympathetic companion piece to Flora, now gaining a welcome vinyl reissue. The almost hallucinogenic heat of an overpowering summer is conjured perfectly, with syrupy synth textures layered impenetrably around the chirruping sounds of the wood. Opening track ‘From The Tangle’ sets the mood perfectly, pulsing and swelling organically before relenting to the soothing textures of the title track. The album feels positive alive, teeming with alien animal life, and sometimes veers deliriously into prog rock territories. A feeling reinforced by the Roger Dean-like sleeves of Nick Taylor, whose artwork for both albums forms a vital part of their evocative aesthetic.
Buckley has created his own distinct Polypores planet. It’s the musical equivalent of those “Fantasy Art” books of the 1970s, their pages crammed with levitating islands, magical castles and scantily-clad elves wielding broadswords. It’s an alluring world, and both Azure and Flora feel like intrepid explorations of its contrasting realms. Long may his imagination run riot, and – if it snows this winter – expect any 2021 album to head boldly to the poles.
Azure available here:
Flora available here:
Stephen James Buckley interviews here:
Stephen James Buckley’s Felt Trips:
(Spun Out Of Control)
An album exploring the unsettling themes of 1970s science fiction via the dancefloor-driven sounds of mid-1980s synth stompers? Some combinations just seem too unlikely. But Brighton’s Neil Hale, whose alternate persona Correlations generally sticks to gentler territories, pulls this off with aplomb. Packed with the throbbing basslines, irresistible beats and slick synths of vintage Billboard Chart bangers, if the album had vocals they’d be sung by Madonna. Admittedly she’d be singing about the sex robots of Westworld and the grim dystopia of Logan’s Run, but hey – imagine the stage routines.
‘Pleasure Model’ is the Westworld-influenced track in question, and follow-up ‘A Number of Games’ has a little hint of ‘Vogue’, striking a pose with a distinctly robotic charm. Elsewhere, charming interlude ‘Robeterwerke’ is a genial nod to Jeff Wayne, and ‘Porsche 928 Ocean Drive’ sounds like Kraftwerk with suntans, cruising Miami Beach with red shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows. In short: terrific fun.
Album available here:
Avenue With Trees
Cherry Red with its sensitively fuzzy pop, Les Disques du Crepuscle with its offbeat synths… the independent labels of the 1980s have always provided laudable inspiration for the ethos of Second Language. This truly beautiful compilation of original material from the label’s big hitters evokes that era perfectly, combined with founder Glen Johnson‘s stated aim to encapsulate a feeling of gentle European romanticism. What he calls “a rainy, wet night in Brussels, in 1982.”
The mood here is languid. Oliver Cherer‘s plaintive ‘Untitled 1983 Demo’ might boast the most plaintively perfect vocal you’ll hear all year, and one-time Piano Magic man Paul Tornbohm employs affectingly melancholy jazz chords for ‘Fear Of Shame’. Elsewhere, original acid-folk pioneer Mark Fry contributes the wistful ‘Half An Hour’, and Yumi Mashiki’s ‘Ophelia’ is a delicate piano composition that hangs in the evening air with exquisite fragility. An album of wistful sighs, of late-night regret and utterly transcendent musicianship.
Album available here:
Glen Johnson interview:
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