Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 74)

Reviews originally published in Issue 74 of Electronic Sound magazine, February 2021:

ISVISIBLE ISINVISIBLE
Moon-White Water
(Burning Witches)


In a dark corner of the Peak District, 20 miles from Manchester, nestles the tiny village of Furness Vale. Its grey, sandstone streets stand resolute against biting winds that bring – ever so faintly – thrilling vibrations from a distant melting pot of musical invention. The young Simon Pott, spending a sizeable chunk of his adolescence here, clearly heard the clarion call of Joy Division, Magazine and The Fall. The influence of the North-West’s uniquely bleak take on post-punk permeates an album that stands as firmly resolute as the pale, proud terraces of his youth.

Those seeking pastoral, ambient calm should cross the street and avoid eye contact. This is a record of head-thumping beats and buzzsaw synths. Pott claims influence from the arcane mysteries of alchemical symbols, but this is no vague, ethereal opus – if he’s looking for the secrets of the universe, he’s doing it from an abandoned mill beside the Manchester Ship Canal. So the synth-pop bleeps of ‘Salt Fire’ and ‘Sea Of Space’ are overwhelmed by the sound of an analogue oscillator, transformed by some ungodly surgery into a welter of distorted, doom-laden guitars. And the title track may offer a worker’s tea break of gentle calm, a hymnal melody on a tide of Blade Runner ambience, but then it’s back to the factory floor. ‘Year Of The Ancients’ is crying out for a sneering Mark E. Smith diatribe, and ‘Into The Hill’ sounds like the Mk 1 Human League soundtracking the clunky graphics of some long-forgotten arcade game, flickering in the corner of a steamed-up chip shop. 

Pott is now based in the Isle of Man, where he paid his post-punk dues in experimental three-piece The Chasms. His first album for Burning Witches was a self-titled 2018 collection with a similarly dark aesthetic, but Moon-White Water has a grittiness that feels more potent, more focused. And its epic conclusion, the eight-minute inner-space voyage of ‘Alchemical Travelogue’, even offers transcendent salvation – a hypnotic trance of prog-rock rhythms and Space Invader bleeps that gleams like a ray of sunshine on a rain-sodden Pennine. It’s a charming finale to a complex album of intriguing mystique and uncompromising authenticity. 

Album available here:
https://burningwitchesrecords.bandcamp.com/album/moon-white-water

POLYPORES
Chaos Blooms
(Polytechnic Youth)


“Chaos can be frightening as well as beautiful,” says prolific Lancastrian Stephen James Buckley, with the grizzled wisdom of a man who has enjoyed more than a few eventful nights out in Preston. So Chaos Blooms brings the freeform jazz approach of Miles Davis to the modular synth, forsaking the languorous ambience of his previous albums. Opening track ‘The Computer’ is an overflowing cupboard of bleeps and noise, crashing to the floor before a hissing, sinister calm descends. And ‘Machine Jazz’, at the album’s mid-point, is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the cross-genre approach. Playful and discordant, its tangled synth lines stop and start like a clanking engine, juddering and evasive.

Carving randomly-generated sound patterns into unlikely sculptures, Buckley has created an album whose direction is impossible to anticipate. Even its reflective moments – with the appropriately-titled ‘A Lull’ perhaps closest to his trademark style – meander mischievously. A bold experiment from a fearless sonic explorer.

Album available here:
https://polypores.bandcamp.com/album/chaos-blooms

WARRINGTON-RUNCORN NEW TOWN DEVELOPMENT PLAN
Interim Report, March 1979
(Castles In Space)

The utopian vision: clean, safe town centres with exemplary public transport. The grim reality: cracked concrete and suspiciously sticky-floored bus stations, decaying in the midst of Thatcher-era neglect. Exploring this depressing chasm with chilling precision is this powerful collection of retro-synth instrumentals, marvellously redolent of an era when extravagantly-sideburned town councillors would gleefully unveil plans for the Brutalist redevelopment of… well, Warrington and Runcorn, for a start.

Lancaster-based producer Gordon Chapman-Fox pours his childhood memories into a perfectly-formed collection. “People, perhaps most of all, have the privilege of walking about in safety…” promises the plummy-voiced sample at the beginning of album opener ‘Gateway To The North’, but from thereon the greyness descends. The windswept ‘Castlefields’ is the sound of deserted 1980s housing estates on freezing Tuesday afternoons, and ‘The Town of Tomorrow’ is surely the soundtrack to the Cyberman invasion of Skelmersdale. A potentially overwhelming experience for anyone ever momentarily separated from their mum in a crumbling multi-storey car park.

Album available here:
https://warrington-runcorn-cis.bandcamp.com/album/interim-report-march-1979

DOGS VERSUS SHADOWS
Nagasaki Collapse Team
(Subexotic)


Oscilloghost
(Third Kind)


A rare example of gamekeeper turned poacher? Lee Pylon is the curator and presenter of the excellent Kites And Pylons radio show, but has recently crossed the barricades to produce a welter of impressive electronica in his own right. And these two new albums showcase differing sides to his take on minimalist, radiophonic composition. So Nagasaki Collapse Team is a measured reaction to the dystopia of 2020, with the bleak austerity of ‘Brutalist’ and ‘Negatives’ countered by the pulsing ambience of the epic, six-minute ‘Whitebeam’.

Meanwhile, Oscilloghost drifts into more otherworldly realms, being the imagined soundtrack to a fictional, spooky TV movie. Pylon claims late 1980s, but some of his creepy, atmospheric vignettes have a whiff of 1960s Delia Derbyshire and suggest ghosts have – indeed – entered his assembled machines. There’s a sense of genuine dread to the likes of ‘Vacuum Tube’ and ‘Calibration’, and the stabbing, staccato synths of the title track are made for late-night BBC2 repeats. Great fun.

Albums available here:
https://dogsversusshadows.bandcamp.com/album/nagasaki-collapse-team
https://thirdkindrecords.bandcamp.com/album/oscilloghost

RUPERT LALLY
Lost To The Past
(Modern Aviation)


Wrapped in a duffel coat and immortalised in a faded photograph, three-year-old Rupert Lally poses on Brighton beach in the shadow of a stranded merchant ship. It’s one of a trove of family snapshots that inspired the mood of this reflectively ambient album, now reissued. ‘Memories Of The Shipwreck’ is the resulting track, the wistful conclusion to an album that occupies the fuzzy spaces between childhood memories – from the exquisite melancholy of ‘Pale Blue Railings’ to the gently sinister shadows of ‘What We Found In The Woods’.

Album available here:
https://musiqueparavion.bandcamp.com/album/lost-to-the-past

FIREFAY
Tales Of Monsters and Fairies
(Woodford Halse)


Folk Horror with a continental feel from this London-based outfit, fronted by French writer and singer Carole Bulewski. Swaddled in a tapestry of mournful violins and rumbling Hammond organs, Bulewski’s multi-lingual vocals stridently interpret supernatural ballads of monsters and demons. ‘La Ventana’ has a delicious bossa nova shimmy, ‘Night Spell’ is a sultry saga filled with shapeshifting fairy folk, and ‘Long Lankin’ –  the traditional tale of a muderous stonemason – is given a mournful jazz twist. Gallic Gothic, writ large.   

Album available here:
https://firefay.bandcamp.com/album/wf-15-tales-of-monsters-and-fairies

THE SOULLESS PARTY
Black Meadow: The Lost Tapes
(Castles In Space)


Kev Oyston and Chris Lambert still won’t blink when pressed on the veracity of the “Black Meadow”, the sinister patch of moorland that seemingly inspires this long-running project. So God knows whether these “lost” recordings were – as they claim – really intended for 2013’s debut album, but the likes of ‘The Blackberry Swim’ and ‘The Ploughman’s Wrath’ effortlessly showcase their love of both brooding folktronica and epic Hollywood scores. And what’s the truth behind that chilling monologue of a title track? You can ask, but don’t expect a straight answer.

Album available here:
https://thesoullessparty-cis.bandcamp.com/album/the-black-meadow-archive-the-lost-tapes

PULSE:
Quiet Clapping

Who he? 

A composer of almost narcotically soothing ambience, he’s Jonathan Deasy to friends, family and bank manager. He’s from Cork, on the south coast of Ireland, and his 2020 album Radiance is being given a cassette release by Sensory Leakeage, retitled in the label’s house style as Zener_25.

“We were in deep lockdown, and living by the sea has it’s benefits,” he recalls. “I spent time walking and exploring the cliffs close to my home. So the album was a musical interpretation of the sound of waves and their reverberation in the caves…”

Why Quiet Clapping?

“The name doesn’t have any profound origin,” he admits. “I suppose in some way it’s an homage to two very influential Irish groups, The Quiet Club and Quiet Music Ensemble.” He also cites US electronica pioneer Pauline Oliveros as a profound inspiration.

“My interest is threefold,” he explains. “Her early electronic experiments, her work in drone music and her philosophy of Deep Listening.” This latter concept, an almost meditative contemplation of sound, was coined by Oliveros after her immersion in the Dan Harpole Cistern in Washington State, a vast (and mercifully empty) underground water storage facility with a 45-second reverb time.

Tell us more…

“I’ve played in bands down through the years and performed regularly in improvising groups and jazz groups,” says Deasy, clearly a consummate musician. “But Quiet Clapping is my first serious solo musical venture. I have an obsession with early electronic music and musique concrète.” He cites James Tenney and Lasse Marhaug as further inspirations, but fans of Brian Eno’s 1980s output – particularly Apollo and Thursday Afternoon – will also find plenty to love.

Album available here:

https://sensoryleakage.bandcamp.com/album/zener-25