Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 88)

Reviews originally published in Issue 88 of Electronic Sound magazine, April 2022:

The Unfolding
(Real World)

“There’s a sense of deep rooted humanity,” explains Hannah Peel of this superlative new record. “That our time here on Earth is short and we will never fully hear the rocks sing, as they shift over millennia.”

It’s about time. Literally. Deep Time, and the impalpable evolution of landscape. The album has been four years in the making, the culmination of a 2018 summit between Peel and conductor Charles Hazlewood, whose Bristol-based Paraorchestra comprises both disabled and non-disabled musicians. Holed up in lockdown retreat on the Northern Irish coast, Peel confided to Electronic Sound in 2021 that she had become “obsessed with rocks, and rock formations”. They might not literally sing here, but Peel’s compositions – played with heart-melting precision by the orchestra and augmented by the shimmering vocals of Victoria Oruwari – feel suitably monolithic. And the immutable is infused with a dignified elegance and a sense of haunting, imperceptible life.

‘The Universe Before Matter’ is the ten-minute opener, a dreamless plateau from the cosmic Before Time. Glacial strings and Oruwari’s crystalline soprano surrender gracefully to the gentle flutter of woodwind as the planet coalesces, slowly building to a triumphant climax of creation. ‘Wild Animal’ adds primal rhythms, guttural whispers and pulsating electronic basslines. And the title track is indeed an unfolding: Linton Stephens’ mournful bassoon is delicately coaxed into the sunlight by the hymnal tones of Oruwani. It’s a religious awakening, a spiritual unthawing.

In a world beset by shadows, Peel and her collaborators have created illuminated joy. ‘Perhaps It Made Us Happy For A Minute’ is, in fact, four minutes of fluttering giddiness. ‘We Are Part Mineral’ is a rhythmic powerhouse, fuelled by the thunderous drumming of the Paraorchestra’s Jonny Leitch. Comparisons seem crass: the avant-garde experiments of John Cale, Terry Riley and Scott Walker may be vaguely relevant, but The Unfolding is untempered Hannah Peel, and the penultimate ‘Part Cloud’ is the finest distillation yet of her joyous approach to her art. As rippling synths succumb to orchestral bliss, even your stony old hills might be moved to salute a woman who is – to paraphrase – lying in the gullies, but looking at the stars.

Album available here:

Moonkeeper Exodus
(Spun Out Of Control)

A year on from the first instalment of his Moonkeeper trilogy, Divine Comedy bassist Simon Little is still marooned in orbit around 24th century Jupiter, where malevolent alien forces have derailed the terraforming of Ganymede and Callisto. Which might make his spring touring schedule a little hairy. Still, this sparkling album of 1980s-infused Radiophonica soundtracks the battle with melodic exuberance. Certainly Doctor Who fans who grew up with Paddy Kingsland’s earworms lodged in their lugholes might find themselves wistfully recalling Vimto-fuelled Dalek battles in the school playground.

‘Lost Transmissions’ sets the tone, with a proggy synth workout and drums loud enough to ripple the waters on Europa. ‘We Are Not Alone’ is spookily sparse, while ‘Crossing The Void’ adds the kind of shimmering arpeggios that always accompanied Peter Davison’s terse run-ins with the Time Lords. Meanwhile, ‘Deimos Division’ boasts delicious synth-pop beats from the funkier end of the solar system, strongly suggesting the relief spaceship from Mars might just be piloted by Giorgio Moroder.

Album available here:

Island Family
(Fire Records)

“I’m just not that much of an outdoors person,” shrugs Johnny “Pictish Trail” Lynch. It’s a curious confession from a man who has spent the last decade in a self-built bolthole on the Isle of Eigg. But stranded there during lockdown, he began to seriously commune with the spirits of the place. Quite literally in the case of the title track: “Do you suppose you’re a ghost? / Then send your soul higher so we can swap roles” he chants, invoking the macabre folklore of the island with clattering beats and spiralling guitars.

Written in an isolated bothy (because sometimes remote island homes just aren’t remote enough), Lynch might not have surrendered to the elements, but he’s at least prepared to concede a hard-fought draw. “I could never say that nature has won / But there is a fight of dynamic equilibrium” he sings on ‘The River It Runs Inside Of Me’. And while ‘It Came Back’ boasts a squall of industrial noise, anthemic melody is never far away: ‘Melody Something’ is delightful dreampop with Burundi drums. An album of splendid contrasts from a similarly mercurial setting.

Album available here:

Anaphora Versions
(Happy Robots)

It’s a tricky commute between Düsseldorf and Shanghai, so the separate factions of Mood Taeg often wind up with contrasting versions of the same tracks. This accompaniment to 2021’s Anaphora gathers them together, transforming leftfield kosmiche into a surprisingly zesty confection. So sprawling album closer ‘Happiness Fragment’ is honed into a toe-tapping album opener… albeit a toe-tapper album opener that still references the Marxist critical theory of Guy Debord. Fans of Cluster and Harmonia will find much to love, and owners of the original album shouldn’t feel short-changed either. 

Album available to pre-order here:

Haig Fras
(Belbury Music)

Climbers wishing to scale the heights of Haig Fras will need Aqua-Lungs and flippers… it’s an underwater mountain range near the Isles of Scilly. West Country experimentalists Neil Mortimer and Mark Pilkington have taken the plunge, using modular synths and the lapping of Cornish tides to evoke the “echinodermatic rhythms” of the ocean floor. Essentially, the secret life of starfish and sea urchins. ‘Jewel Anemone’ shimmers and sways, ‘Limpet Dance’ boasts hypnotic click-clacks and the whole affair is infused with a sense of calming melancholy that adds – with apologies – immersive depth.

Album available here:

The Carrier
(Ghost Box)

A record so steeped in the hairy traditions of late period psych it should come packaged in an Afghan rug and reek of patchouli oil. It’s Wolf People’s Jack Sharp, swathing downbeat wooziness (“I am only the carrier / Here to bring your disease”) in folk harmonies and impeccably wigged-out playing. ‘Marceline’ is a bluesy Peter Green shuffle, ‘No Difference’ captures the moment when the post-hippie comedown was chiselled into Deep Purple granite. And Ghost Box veterans seeking their fix of the weird will delight in ‘The Witch’: “She came, she came in quivering flame…” Effortlessly magical.

Album available here:

Aux Luna

Who he? 

Shropshire tinkerer Alexander McCloughlin, apparently. “After my mum died, I found a large cardboard box in her loft, full of books and magazines about the paranormal,” he claims. “They didn’t belong to her or my dad so I don’t know where they came from. There was a page from a catalogue and it had a cheap version of the old View-Master 3D photo viewer, made by a company called Aux Luna. They don’t exist any more, so I used the name and their logo for my project.”

Why Aux Luna?

There are now three Aux Luna albums, with McCloughlin layering loops, toy instruments and fizzling ambience over extracts from dusty analogue tapes also discovered in said box. These hissy cassettes, simply labelled “Hannah”, were filled with disintegrating, mono recordings of unidentified guitar and piano recitals.

“Some of the magazines in the box had the name ‘Shepherd’ written on them and I thought that may have been written by the newsagent to reserve them,” he continues. “So I assume Hannah was the daughter of someone called Shepherd who used to buy these magazines. Hannah Shepherd? I’ve searched online but never found a likely candidate.”

Tell us more…

New album British Cryptids also incorporates plummy-voiced snippets from what purports to be a previously unbroadcast 1974 schools TV series of the same title. They’re on Youtube, for anyone seized by curiosity about the ‘Yorkshire Yeti’ and the ‘Hereford Twiggywitch’.

It all makes for a wonderfully disquieting experience, redolent of both windswept, haunted heaths and bum-numbing school halls haunted by the spectres of long-lost Spam fritters. But McCloughlin remains modest. “No matter how I subsequently develop the music, it is forever inspired and haunted by Hannah,” he concedes. “Whoever she was…”

Album available here:

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

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