Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 59)

Reviews originally published in Issue 59 of Electronic Sound magazine, November 2019:

ANTONI MAIOVVI’S TIME PRECINCT
British Interrail
(
Castles In Space)

In which everyone’s favourite fictional Italian disco producer provides a high-tempo soundtrack to… discounted British rail journeys for EU residents? The alter ego of Bristol-born, Berlin-based Anton Maiof, Maiovvi is a Dario Argento-obsessed playboy with a penchant for spooky film scores, but this is a joyously upbeat collection: the eminently danceable ‘Stable Mirror’, in particular, is a New Order-style banger that may yet have grizzled Haçienda veterans reaching for their dusty glow sticks.

Those of us marooned in the provinces during the late 1980s club explosion might find retro, beat-laden workouts like ‘Post Modern Morals’ evoking hazy memories of Sol lager and The Hit Man and Her rather than the Manchester superclubs, but – regardless of where your dancefloor mojo was honed – this is a giddy concoction, liable to make anyone whose teenage years involved the occasional smiley-faced T-shirt feel decidedly misty-eyed.

Available here:

https://timeprecinct-cis.bandcamp.com/album/british-interrail-ep

HATTIE COOKE
The Sleepers
(Spun Out Of Control)


This Brighton singer-songwriter has peppered her delightfully downbeat vignettes of everyday melancholy with the occasional vintage synth, but here throws herself into full John Carpenter soundtrack mode, with an instrumental concept album whose premise – that of a worldwide sleeping sickness, and a dangerous cult seeking out the victims – sets the tone for an enjoyably dark and suitably woozy musical journey. ‘Run’ even hints at Mark Snow’s X-Files theme; perfect for a case that Mulder and Scully would surely relish.

Available here:

https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/the-sleepers

Interview with Hattie Cooke here:

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/12/09/hattie-cooke-the-sleepers-and-spun-out-of-control/

VARIOUS ARTISTS
The Quietened Journey
(A Year In The Country)


Stephen Prince’s multi-media project A Year In The Country explores the links between folk, electronica and a rather otherworldly pastoralism, this new compilation tasking its contributors with creating musical explorations of abandoned roads and railway lines. The likes of Field Lines Cartographer and Grey Frequency evoke heartbreaking radiophonic dreams of overgrown sidings and crumbling platforms, and Pulselovers‘ ‘Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton in Five Minutes’ somehow contrives to make a hypnotic, Krautrock synth anthem the perfect celebration of pre-Beeching steam travel. Joyous.

Available here:

https://ayearinthecountry.bandcamp.com/album/the-quietened-journey

Interview with Stephen Prince here:

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/09/21/a-year-in-the-country-stephen-prince-and-echoes-reverberations/

DREW MULHOLLAND
A Clockwork Orange
(Bibliotapes)


The irrepressible Mulholland – whose 1999 Mount Vernon Arts Lab album The Séance at Hobs Lane helped define 21st century hauntology – is in prolific form, and his third album of 2019 soundtracks Anthony Burgess’ novel in suitably sinister style. Trademark sound manipulations expertly create ominous slabs of music concrète, the eight-minute ’84F’ perfectly evoking the draughty menace of chief Droog Alex’s teenage prison cell. A limited cassette release on this perfectly-formed micro-label, laudably dedicated to electronica with a literary inspiration.

Available here:

https://drewmulholland.bandcamp.com/album/a-clockwork-orange

Interviews with Drew Mulholland here:

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/08/31/the-wicker-man-the-wicker-tapes-drew-mulholland-and-john-dees-angels/

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/05/17/delia-derbyshire-drew-mulholland-and-three-antennas-in-a-quarry/

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

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 58)

Reviews originally published in Issue 58 of Electronic Sound magazine, October 2019:

PULSELOVERS
Cotswold Stone
(Castles In Space
)

For an album inspired by an idyllic upbringing in the medieval town of Burford, Cotswold Stone has a curiously transatlantic feel: the evocative schoolroom sounds of maracas and recorders are entwined around clipped synth-funk rhythms and sensuous, yacht rock saxophones. Never have impressions of Bourton-on-the-Water sounded more cinematic. But it’s a delightful confection, suggesting that main man Mat Handley’s 1970s Famous Five-style exploits in the Oxfordshire countryside were the perfect aperitif for an evening of John Carpenter films on BBC2.

Now based in South Yorkshire, Handley even seems to be harking back to his own childhood electronica experiments; he has spoken of sitting “in the cupboard under the stairs, with my Jen SX1000.” The album expertly juggles this musical and personal nostalgia; my stand-out track being the wistful ‘Autumn Arrives Again’, where gently-plucked guitars and a wash of reflective, analogue synths evoke perfectly the dreadful moment when the ‘Back to School’ displays appeared in your local Woolworths.

https://pulselovers.bandcamp.com/album/cotswold-stone

(Interview with Mat Handley here…)

JAN BORRÉ
Grayson
(Spun Out Of Control)


Is everyone familiar with the contribution of Amanda Grayson to 20th century popular culture? She was, as any self-respecting Star Trek fan will tell you, the human mother of Mr Spock, who followed her heart to live on the desert planet of Vulcan after falling in love with the planet’s ambassador to Earth. Jan Borré ‘s album – released for Cassette Store Day – eschews any temptation towards sci-fi kitsch, instead using her story as the basis for a downbeat and moving instrumental exploration of alienation and disconnect.

Young Belgian composer Borré has worked with Spun Out Of Control before, on the soundtrack to horror film Where The Skin Lies, and his cinematic style is evident here, too. He has a striking gift for melody, with memorable, melancholic synth lines rising frequently from the ambience, and – as in the case of magnificent Side 2 opener ‘The Northern Claw’ – occasionally precipitating an explosion into celebratory, beat-laden ‘banger’ territory.

https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/grayson

HERON & CRANE
Firesides
(Hibernator Gigs)


Hailing from Ohio, Dave Gibson and Travis Kokas have previous form as garage rockers, but Firesides finds the sweet spot between that very pastoral school of Canterbury prog (they happily admit the album’s sleeve is an homage to Caravan’s 1971 opus ‘In the Land of Grey and Pink’), and British library music with a whiff of long-forgotten Open University modules. Tracks like ‘Electron Waltz’ and ‘Space Junk’ are awash with vintage Moogs, and sometimes even find a delicious Krautrock groove.

https://heronandcranemusic.bandcamp.com/album/firesides

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Cold War on The Rocks – Disco and Electronic Music from Finland 1980-1991
(Svart Records)

The legacy of synth pioneer Jori Sivonen – who died in July – sets the tone for this hugely enjoyable collection, with the opening three tracks (including ‘Jupiter’, purportedly named after his beloved Roland Jupiter 8) all bearing his melodic handiwork. Elsewhere, Mika Sundqvist and Jokke Sepp explore galactic synth sounds, and Visual’s ‘Big & Beautiful’ was sequenced on a Commodore 64. The upbeat, disco-fuelled schlager feel occasionally evokes memories of 1980s Eurovisions, but some of us are rather partial to that.

https://svartrecords.com/product/cold-war-on-the-rocks-disco-and-electronic-music-from-finland-1980-1991-3/

PULSE: Fariña

Who they?

Mark Brend, Matt Gale and Cliff Glanfield formed Fariña in 1995, gaining acclaim for their albums ‘Three People’ and ‘Allotments’; epic collections of filmic, bittersweet chamber pop redolent of peak-era Scott Walker and Ennio Morricone. There were, quite frankly, trumpets. After splitting in 2005, the trio have reunited to record a soundtrack EP to Mark’s debut novel Undercliff, a gently beguiling tale set amid the post-hippy fall-out of 1972, in which a listless divorcee finds himself drawn into the world of sinister religious cult The Olive Grove.

Why Fariña?

It means ‘flour’ in Spanish, I believe,” says Mark. “We just liked the sound of the word.” Unlike their two albums, The Undercliff Suite EP is entirely instrumental, with a more experimental, post-rock feel, perhaps suggesting a bold new direction for a band who seem warmly receptive to longer-term collaborations. “Reforming Fariña just seemed like a natural, logical step,” adds Mark. “I don’t recall us even discussing it that much. We just started writing together and it was if the intervening years hadn’t happened.”

Tell us more…

As Mark is keen to stress: “The music is an attempt to capture the atmosphere of aspects of the book, rather than soundtrack them in a literal sense.” Appropriate then, that the EP is quietly unsettling, with soothing, jazz-tinged brass and folk club accordion floating elegantly across beds of vintage synths provided, perhaps predictably, by Electronic Sound contributor Mark. And it culminates in the beautiful, hymn-like ‘Resurgam’, evoking images of Sir Hubert Parry let loose upon a MicroKORG.

http://hankypankyrecords.blogspot.com/2019/09/farina-undercliff-suite-ep-hpr-044.html

(Interview with Mark Brend here)

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

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

Electronic Sound: Buried Treasure – Dark Circles by The Devils

(First published in Electronic Sound magazine #59, November 2019)

Unearthing Electronic Gold

Somewhere, out there in the infinite multiverse, is a parallel reality version of Duran Duran. An incarnation where original frontman Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, rather than quitting the band in 1979 on the brink of their commercial breakthrough, stayed the course and found himself strapped to a cyberpunk windmill and dunked headfirst into a vat of fiery water, surrounded by bare-chested Mad Max extras at the height of 1980s MTV-fuelled excess.

However, for those of us with a distinct admiration for Duffy’s wilfully eclectic career, our version of events is infinitely preferable. Chart hits ‘Kiss Me’ and the sublime ‘Icing on the Cake’ were the sound of my 1985, and he’s since made a virtue of his seemingly boundless musical curiosity. There’s the delicate folk-rock of The Lilac Time; the experimental proto-house of the enigmatic Dr Calculus, and – most  improbably – Me Me Me‘s ‘Hanging Around’, a cheery Britpop anthem with a post-Parklife Alex James along for the ride, rubbing chartbound shoulders with the Spice Girls in the beery summer of 1996.     

In 1999, however, it was the unfinished business of his early Duran Duran adventures – and a chance encounter with Nick Rhodes – that sparked inspiration. The former bandmates bumped into each other shortly after Duffy’s discovery of a long-lost cassette of their pre-fame songs, and set to work on a heroically selfless feat of musical archaeology. With a manifesto of using only the synthesisers available to them in 1979, and not changing a single gauche teenage lyric, they finally recorded the album that might have been.

The resulting 2002 record, Dark Circles, is magnificent. Duffy and Rhodes – recording as The Devils – joyously re-create their adolescent awkwardness with supremely deadpan dedication. “I like going shopping / Shopping in the big store / Shopping in the large store / Any store that’s big,” sings the 42-year-old Duffy, accompanied by dystopian synths and soulful backing vocals. I laughed out loud when I first heard it, and fell in love with the whole glorious caper.

Elsewhere, ‘Come Alive’ has a whiff of Berlin-era Bowie’s poppier moments; ‘Newhaven-Dieppe’ sounds like Nick Drake fronting Soft Cell, and the throbbing title track is a genuine dark-synth classic: “You’re Stockhausen with pictures / Ulysses in ugly shoes” spits Duffy, as Rhodes whips up a whirlwind of tight synth-funk rhythms.

Shortly afterwards, Duffy was visited by Robbie Williams, sounding out potential writing partners. Spying the vintage synths still piled high from the Dark Circles sessions, Williams clocked a new direction. Their resulting co-written single, ‘Radio’, went to No 1, and Duffy found himself playing to international stadiums as Williams’ new musical director. Rhodes, meanwhile, rejoined Duran Duran, and was equally no stranger to a larger-than-average crowd.

The songs of Dark Circles were arguably lost in the slipstream of the commercial pop juggernaut once again. But you’ll never find a more touching – and superbly realised – paean to the giddy rush of wide-eyed teenage ambition.

Bob Fischer

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

https://electronicsound.co.uk/