Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 68)

Reviews originally published in Issue 68 of Electronic Sound magazine, August 2020:

BELBURY POLY
The Gone Away
(Ghost Box)

When I say I’ve been recording music about fairies, after the inevitable silence, there’s usually an awkward response somewhere between ridicule and revulsion,” admits Jim Jupp, Ghost Box co-founder and the shadowy rector of Belbury Poly. “I guess that’s because the tiny winged fairies from 19th century children’s stories have won out over the weirder and wilder versions from folklore…”

So forget any preconceptions about Tinkerbell. Instead, look to more traditional tales of these malevolent woodland beings, abducting babies (‘The Gone Away‘ indeed) and leaving changelings in their place. Such is the inspiration behind a haunting, immersive album that feels like a nod to Ghost Box’s roots: where Jupp, working alone this time, is a channel for ancient, rustic strangeness, passed through the filter of some long-forgotten children’s TV serial. Album opener ‘Root and Branch’ is the show’s eerie radiophonic theme tune, worthy of Paddy Kingsland at his most melodic, and the deceptively alluring ‘Magpie Lane’ would segue seamlessly into a commercial break for Texan bars and Tizer.

Belbury Poly albums rarely give up their secrets easily. It’s been four years since 2016’s New Ways Out toyed with the frothy, school holiday synths of Chicory Tip and The Rah Band, and only repeated listens uncovered the sickly unease lurking beneath. The Gone Away can be equally deceptive. Much like the fairy folk themselves, its true nature is best glimpsed sideways on, lurking among the shadows. So the gently upbeat ‘Star Jelly’, with its tooting ocarina, surrenders to the chilling woodland dance of ‘Copse’, where a grumbling medieval crumhorn stands firm amid an onslaught of swooshing electronica. Fallen twigs crack beneath advancing footsteps, and the message becomes clear: you are not safe here.

In recent years, Ghost Box has admirably sought to expand its palette of influences, playing host to the psychedelic tropicália of Beautify Junkyards, the woozy sound collages of Berlin’s ToiToiToi, and the transatlantic beat poetry of Justin Hopper. But Jupp has clearly not forgotten the scenario in which his heart first opened to the weird: that childhood chill of being left, alone, as darkness descends in the woods. For Ghost Box at least, that feeling has clearly never gone away.

Album available here:
https://ghostbox.greedbag.com/buy/the-gone-away/

Jim Jupp interview here:
https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2020/08/07/belbury-poly-jim-jupp-and-ghost-box-records/

NEVERGRAND
Things That We Should Fear
(Spun Out Sounds)


The funk is back, and it’s Belgian! Jan Borré‘s last outing for Spun Out of Control was an ambient concept album dedicated to Mr Spock’s mother, so this album – released on new sister label Spun Out Sounds – is something of a gear change. Fellow Belgian Steve Kashala lends soulful vocals to a groove-filled and lushly-produced opus clearly in thrall to Stevie Wonder’s mid-1970s imperial phase, and it’s hard to imagine Talking Book or Innervisions being far from the Nevergrand turntable during the album’s gestation.

So expect lashings of funky clavinet and Minimoog, and the odd ambitious key change. Borré – who plays everything here – proves the perfect foil for Kashala, and it’s impossible to hear upbeat, sun-drenched tracks like ‘Mighty Wizard’ without grinning insanely at the audacity of it all. But there’s a heart and soul, too: ‘The Storm’ is a stately, heartfelt ballad that allows Kashala’s vocals to effortlessly explode, from breathy whisper to soaring majesty.

Album available here:
https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/things-that-we-should-fear

BERNARD GRANCHER
Soleil Gris Eclatant
(Castles In Space)


Crackling synths at the end of their natural lives, fading tape stock on juddering reels. Darkness and decay permeate an album that French experimentalist Grancher concedes was created after a “wounding episode” in his personal life, and make for an affecting, powerful experience. At times, the album teeters on the brink of completely falling apart: ‘Soleil Plat Et Vibrations Intrinseques’, a mournful lament for buzzsaw synth, stumbles like a wounded soldier towards ‘(Je Reve Encore De Toi)’, an elegiac nightmare of hymnal chants and hammered dulcimer.

Grancher seems to empathise and find solidarity with his dying machines, and the fusion is touching. “Bright grey sun” is the album’s title’s literal translation, and the half-light of loss has clearly threatened to consume him. But album closer ‘Des Batailles Comme Tu En Gagnes Tout Les Jours’ offers salvation, with the charming, child-like chiptune of an ancient toy synth propelled towards a warmer sun by determined, resolute beats. There is, literally, hope for us all.

Album available here:
https://bernardgrancher-cis.bandcamp.com/album/soleil-gris-eclatant

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Undulating Waters 4
(Woodford Halse)


The wistful spirit of dream pop drifts lightly across this latest collection of new material from Mat Handley’s tape-centric Woodford Halse label. Isis Moray‘s ‘The Mirror’ is a breathy, hypnotic opener, and DNGRBIRD’s ‘Kelly and Josephine’ is a beautiful, lonesome whisper in a sea of wonky textures. Elsewhere, Glasgow’s self-proclaimed “eldritch spook duo” Burd Ellen harmonise with heart-touching perfection on the traditional Gaelic number ‘Bi Faldh’, and gloriously grim Yorkshire weirdness comes from Kafka Chic‘s ‘A Sheffield Prayer’. “Our fatha, who art in Heeley”… champion.

Album available here:
https://woodfordhalse.bandcamp.com/album/wf-07-undulating-waters-4

Mat Handley interview here:
https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/10/11/pulselovers-mat-handley-and-cotswold-stone/

BEN WINTER
Still Animals
(Modern Aviation)


A confident, eclectic debut from this emerging Bridlington artist. Disquieting opener ‘Surfacing’ is a juddering, eight-minute sound montage of drones, unearthly clattering and oddly sinister birdsong, but the album is not without its reflective moments. ‘Antigone’, sung by actress Annabel Baldwin, is laconically wistful (“Sometimes I feel like I never say anything to anyone, anywhere”) and the title track – a piano-led elegy of reverb-drenched regret – is genuinely affecting. An album where cut-up collage and melodic melancholy walk elegantly hand-in-hand.

Album available here:
https://musiqueparavion.bandcamp.com/album/still-animals


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

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

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