Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 90)

Reviews originally published in Issue 90 of Electronic Sound magazine, June 2022:

FIELD LINES CARTOGRAPHER
Dreamtides
(Castles In Space)

“A strange coastline, a beach. A dream-world of hyper-vivid colours and a topography of regular geometric shapes, rather than natural forms. A sense of both peace and slight unease…” and then Mark Burford woke up, and he was in Lancaster. Still, he’s lucky to be blessed by such blissfully impressionistic night-time reveries, the rest of us just have anxiety dreams about sitting naked at job interviews. Inspired, Burford has used the lurid seaside resort of his subconscious as the setting for a sprawling double album of appropriately somnambulant delights.

Because this is a restless summer’s morning of an album. An album of 11am slumber, of guilty sunshine pouring through slatted blinds. A post-exams, pre-university doss of an album. It doesn’t hurry, it lingers; idle and sluggish with a lazy day to kill. Opener ‘Hexagon Sands At Low Tide’ is 14 minutes long, a plush comfort blanket of modular tinkles and the wail of some ancient, analogue mermaid. ‘Golden Hour’ adds sinister, low rumblings, the seductive growls of Morpheus on the prowl. Recording his tracks in the order they were written, Burford has created not so much a stream of consciousness as an ocean of unconsciousness.

Your bed is the vessel, drifting slowly past ‘Octagon Dappled Shallows’ with its cyclical bleeps and slow, rhythmic breaths. Past ‘Sable Bay With Stars’, a 13.5 tog duvet of a track, both comforting and suffocating. It’s a record that often occupies the same elusive mental space as the bucolic flipside of Eno’s Before And After Science, where idle fingers brush the surface of sun-dappled seas. But by ‘Purple Dusk Over Water’ the darkness is creeping, and freezing tides of Moog arrive with disconcerting haste. The forecast? ‘Rhomboid Storm Clouds’, 12 minutes of relentlessly hypnotic pattering. Get back under the bedsheets with a brolly.

Burford himself is far from sleepy: this is his ninth Field Lines Cartographer album in barely six years. But it’s the perfect encapsulation of the deep and sometimes disturbing repose of the blissfully indolent. While memories of real-life dreams wither beneath the grind of the everyday humdrum, Dreamtides is an album that remains as hyper-vivid as the visions that inspired it. Hit the snooze button and descend into its charms.   

Album available here:
https://fieldlinescartographer-cis.bandcamp.com

MOUNT MAXWELL
Only Children
The People’s Forest
(Hotham Sound/Cardinal Fuzz/Feeding Tube)

Mount Maxwell? It’s a 10,000-foot Canadian mountain with spectacular views of Fulford Harbour, and this brace of releases from Vancouver producer Jamie Tolagson feels similarly expansive. He assumed the name to create analogue explorations of his 1970s childhood, particularly the formative years he spent in a musician’s commune halfway up said peak. These are his fourth and fifth albums respectively, released on cassette in 2019 and 2021 but now given vinyl reissues.

Only Children is the more organic record, a fuzzy mish-mash of jumbled, pre-school memories. The title track is worth the money alone: soft acoustic guitars accompany a tide of electronic melancholy, before surrendering to the sensory synth overload of ‘Weird Places’. The People’s Forest feels like a natural progression, a disquieting ramble around rural British Columbia, with ‘Ring Of Rushes’ the haunted highlight. It’s easy to assume Boards of Canada lineage, but the actual Film Board of Canada feels a more appropriate comparison for an artist who expertly embodies the faded, 16mm ambience of unsettling childhood daydreams.  

Albums available here:
https://hothamsoundrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/only-children
https://hothamsoundrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/the-peoples-forest

CRAIG FORTNAM
Instrumental Music 1
(Believer’s Roast)

An album about “nothing at all”? It’s a curveball from Craig Fortnam, whose work with both the North Sea Radio Orchestra and Arch Garrison has never flinched from lofty concepts. But even without a furrowed-browed narrative, Fortnam’s second solo album distills the melancholy eccentricity that has trickled through his work like an underground stream. 

Divest the word of jingoistic flim-flam: there’s an Englishness here that is profoundly charming. Yearning sighs, long afternoons in dusty bookshops, cold cups of tea with a milky film. ‘Gigant’ might be the most delightful album opener of the year: playful bassoons give way to mellifluous guitars, chattering synths and mournful strings from a wistful ensemble surely dotted with crumbs of Victoria sponge. Elsewhere, all of Fortnam’s touchstones are… well, touched. Stackridge, Caravan, Kevin Ayers… ‘Carrot Two’ is even a jerky nod to The Cardiacs. And epic album closer ‘Gallants Green’ feels like an autumnal hymn to Betjeman’s Metro-Land, slowly derailing into blissful wonkiness. Exquisite.

Album available here:
https://craigfortnam.bandcamp.com/album/instrumental-music-1

HAWKSMOOR
Head Coach
(Spun Out Of Control)


“A psychogeographical mapping of the urban landscape of Milton Keynes”? Sold. With hypnotic synth arpeggios and wobbly analogue washes, Bristol-based James McKeown celebrates the Druidic significance of Buckinghamshire’s most notorious newtown. No, really. In the early 1970s, legend has it, lead architect Derek Walker shifted his plans by a few degrees to allow the freshly-built streets – and, presumably, their accompanying concrete cows – to afford the perfect view of sunrise on Midsummer solstice mornings.

Appropriately-titled opener ‘Solstice Alignment’ is a tinkling lullaby, undermined by skulking menace. ‘Silbury Boulevard’ is a Floyd-esque pillow of chiming guitars, an out-of-body experience above executive apartments. But it’s ‘The Medicine Wheel’ that really captures the mood: a pulsing synth homage to a mystical stone circle built not by ancient Druids, but by Milton Keynes Parks Trust for their 2000 millennium celebrations. Fuelled by these glorious incongruities, McKeown hits that perpetually evocative sweet spot between Ballardian brutalism and antediluvian oddness.

Album available here:
https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/head-coach

THE NEW ELECTRIC FRONTIER
The Consequences Of Erosion
(Bandcamp)


As The British Stereo Collective, square-eyed Stoke producer Phil Heeks creates splendidly authentic spoof TV themes, tongue often planted firmly in cheek. The Consequences Of Erosion is a more earnest examination of ecological issues, but his ear for pastiche remains unrivalled. So it’s hard to hear the squelchy synths of ‘Technik’ or ‘Petrosexual’ without imagining a dire warning on Tomorrow’s World about the dangers of spray-on deodorant. But it’s ‘Critical Mass’ that is the highlight: a moody collaboration with Gavin “The Metamorph” Brick, equally in thrall to both Giorgio Moroder and Judith Hann.

Album available here:
https://thenewelectricfrontier.bandcamp.com/album/the-consequences-of-erosion

ALISON COTTON
The Portrait You Painted Of Me
(Rocket Recordings)


Alongside her work with psychedelic folkies The Left Outsides, Alison Cotton has a sideline in decidedly experimental solo albums. ‘The Last Wooden Ship’ is the lynchpin here, 11 stunning minutes of mournful, manipulated viola worthy of John Cale at his most austere… although Cotton’s soundscapes are more Wearside foundry than Warhol’s Factory. Nevertheless, the mood remains funereal: the chilling ‘17th November 1962’ marks the loss of nine lives on a Seaham lifeboat. The bleak romanticism of Cotton’s native North-East adds warmth and humanity to this beautifully evocative collection.

Album available here:
https://alisoncotton-uk.bandcamp.com/album/the-portrait-you-painted-of-me

MEADOWSILVER
II
(Miller Sounds)


Stephen Stannard of The Rowan Amber Mill and Grey Malkin of The Hare and the Moon team up with Burd Ellen vocalist Gayle “Pefkin” Brogan for an album so steeped in ancient weirdness it should really come delivered by ‘Obby ‘Oss. ‘Garland Queens And Old Straw Bears’ sets the tone, with Brogan’s breathy vocal floating like autumnal mist through a forest of tinkling synths and psychedelic guitars. Elsewhere, ‘Ophelia Beneath The Weeping Willows’ is like a hymnal Dubstar, and ‘The Breath Of The Ice Queen’ a vengeful Vashti Bunyan. Magic, with a ‘k’ on the end.

Album available here:
https://thehareandthemoon.bandcamp.com/album/meadowsilver-ii

Electronic Sound – “the house magazine for plugged in people everywhere” – is published monthly, and available here:
https://electronicsound.co.uk/

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