Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 81)

Reviews originally published in Issue 81 of Electronic Sound magazine, September 2021:

(Happy Robots)

It’s a mountain, in case you were wondering. 454m above sea level in the Saxony-Anholt region of Germany, and reputedly once the site of Pagan worship in honour of the Hagedisen forest gods. This isn’t explicitly the reason Alice Hubble sings “Oh, what a beautiful mountain” on the shimmering title track of her second solo album, but she was at least driving through the region when she misheard Michael Patrick Kelly crooning ‘Beautiful Madness’ on the car radio.

Appropriately then, it’s an album of tangents. Opener ‘West Reservoir’ is a haunted, ambient storm, but it doesn’t set the tone. ‘Power Play’ is angry post-punk electronica, a bitter shrug at post-#metoo indifference. “Will they pay? They scars that they leave, they don’t easily fade away,” she seethes. But there are moments of pure romantic pop, too. Fuelled by a love of vintage OMD, ‘Projections’ could stand tall in the artier corners of any mid-1980s chart rundown. It’s a love song to a partner at arm’s length, their imperfections obfuscated by the distance. “1-2-3 and I fall in love with my projections of you / I’m just seeing what I want to see”.

Let’s not entirely forget those Pagan influences, either. The literal translation of the album title? “Witches’ Dance Floor”. As with previous release Polarlichter, Hubble is clearly not averse to the odd spot of moonlit weirdness. ‘Make Believe’ is a dark synth-folk with Hubble a sinister wronged lover. “Make believe a world for me / Comfort in being somebody” she sings, lowering her voice to a powerful contralto as baroque keyboards cast a beguiling spell around her. These forays into the more esoteric corners of the electronic world feel like her most natural home, the quintessential essence of Hubble.

It’s a long way from her stint as 50% of indie-poppers Arthur and Martha, but she hasn’t lost her flair for detailing the everyday. ‘Words unsaid / I see you in the letters that you sent” she sings on ‘My Dear Friend’, recounting the heart-tugging discovery of a yellowed pile of billet-douxs once sent by her late mother. Hubble remains charmingly unpretentious: “One lady at home with her enormous collection of synthesisers” is her modest self-description in the album’s PR. But her adept combination of the affectingly familiar with this gentle musical expansion is leading her to increasingly impressive peaks.

Album available here:

The Shildam Hall Tapes: The Falling Reverse
(A Year In The Country)

Hiding behind monochromatic tree branches since 2014, Stephen Prince – with his multimedia project A Year In The Country – has created a tangled, overgrown enclave of twisted, rustic oddness. Fragmented throughout his various releases has been the tale of the fictional Shildam Hall, here fleshed out with a short but gently disquieting album.

An accompanying novella tells the story. In 1799, the lovelorn Lady of the Manor writes a keening lament for a travelling labourer, a song set to jinx Shildam’s unsuspecting residents for centuries to come. Opener ‘On The Moors’ carries a whiff of this keening melody before darkness descends. ‘Day 12, Scene 2, Take 28 – Hoffman’s Fall’ enters appropriate horror soundtrack territory, a lurching depiction of a 1970 attempt to film in the haunted hall. ‘An Ancient Find’ is spectral chamber music, whispered on a moorland breeze. Lurking in the coal hole, Prince continues to weave his own darkly entrancing magic over the surrounding countryside.

Album available here:

People & Industry
(Castles In Space)

In which Gordon Chapman-Fox continues his laudable one-man crusade to document the urban heritage of 1970s Cheshire in analogue synth form. A swift sequel to Interim Report, March 1979, this is a warmer album than its predecessor; his debut album’s Brutalist newtown ambience replaced here by an emotional homage to the plight of the North-West workforce.

So ‘Petrochemical’ is a strident salute to the belching refinery at Weston Point, and ‘Man and Manufacturing’ a wistful memorial to the days of roaring furnaces and clattering production lines. Melancholy pervades: both the proto-Human League beats of ‘Built By Robots’ and the tinkling lament of ‘Managed Decline’ ominously foreshadow 1980s dole queues and boarded-up social clubs. It’s retro-futurism as head-shaking social comment, a heartrending experience for those of us brought up beneath the orange haze of Northern industrial smog. An album of stained overalls and shattered pride.

Album available here:

The Globeflower Masters Vol 1
(Mr Bongo)

Lush strings. Funky basslines. The timeless tinkling of Fender Rhodes pianos. Bored during lockdown, Brighton soulboys Fallows and Treffel passed their time creating this gloriously ripe homage to the 1970s soundtracks of Lalo Schifrin and Serge Gainsbourg. And it’s perfect – the nexus between Blaxploitation cool and seedy British grime. ‘Faith In Time’ is the sound of Richard Roundtree clamping a silencer to his freshly-chilled Colt, and ‘Fear Me Now’ an irresistible subliminal order to pull on black leather gloves and threaten Ian Hendry with a one-way trip to the Thames Estuary.

Album available here:

(Cherry Red)

“If it’s not wazzing down, I lie on my back on the bank”. That’s very Manchester. It’s 38 years since Jane Lancaster and Edward Barton inadvertently created a cottage industry of 1990s dance samples with ‘It’s A Fine Day’, but this touching reunion album is a similarly minimalist delight. Opener ‘Late At Night’ is a paean to silent, solo rambling and ‘Shushy Time’ and ‘Daisies And Buttercups’ speak wearily of sensory overload: “Stop saying words, they make my ears hurt”. Barton’s lyrics are poignantly pragmatic, Lancaster remains the breathy voice of Northern melancholy. Exquisite.

Album available here:

(Third Kind)

“Between a reissue and a restoration project” is how Nick Langley describes this collaboration with David “Dark Half” Dilliway, a spruced-up version of their lavish 1990s attempt to capture the feel of a retreating Earth, seen as a blue dot from the vastness of space. So there are understandable hints of The Orb here and there, but it’s still hugely eclectic. ‘Geocentrics Theme’ is the driven, post-punk offspring of Talking Heads, ‘Continental Override’ is Goldie-esque drum and bass, and ‘Coral’ is 12 minutes of superlative Eno-esque weightlessness. Think Carl Sagan at the Ministry of Sound.

Album available here:

(Hibernator Gigs)

US duo Dave Gibson and Travis Kokas return with a switched-on successor to 2019’s Firesides. Psychedelic stylings remain intact, but – from the moment stadium rock drums infiltrate the analogue synths of opener ‘Fogline’ – there’s a tougher, whip-smart edge. On ‘Projectiles’, Kokas even shakes his head at the cataclysmic end of the Trump presidency: “We washed our hands of their demands / Shouted over the siren rings”. Gibson contributes a wistful vocal to ‘Tired Empire’ too, and elsewhere there are lashings of mellotron and Byrds guitars. Delightfully pastoral, but decidedly peeved.

Album available here:

Faithful Johannes

Who he? 

The Alan Bennett of hip hop, as nobody has ever called him. But more fool them, it’s the perfect description.

“I’ve read a lot of his work out loud to my partner at bedtime,” admits this softly-spoken Durham idler, also citing Victoria Wood, US humourist David Sedaris and whimsical rapper Serengeti as influences. He shares their collective obsession with the intriguing minutiae of life.

“I want to find a way to convey how complex and beautiful the world is,” he ponders. “And focusing on the little things seems the best way to achieve that”.

Why Faithful Johannes?

There’s no shortage of “little things” on his new collection Ken & Jean, a bitter-sweet concept album about an on-off middle-aged couple. 

“In 1991 they had a holiday on the Med where Ken pretended to be a Hollywood actor and got special treatment,” explains Johannes. “This became a hobby, and he began concocting harmless schemes to blag anything from extra time at the bowling alley to a premature centenarian’s telegram from the Queen.

“The album is set a few years after Jean left him… she did a late-night runner from a holiday in North Yorkshire”.

Tell us more…

The album is a beautiful confection of gentle breakbeats, farty synths, 1960s pop flourishes and Johannes’ self-described “barely rap”: an adorable mumble that reeks of tearooms, listless Tuesdays and a very British brand of drizzle-soaked desperation.

“An actual couple called Ken and Jean drink in my local pub,” he confesses. “But I only realised this afterwards. Ken on the album is an older, exaggerated version of me: naturally quiet, a bit anonymous, and putting up a performance front for his kicks.”

Onstage, Johannes is frequently accompanied by a frilly standard lamp, an ironing board and a selection of hand-scrawled placards. “Faithful Johannes” is, of course, a character from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. His real name is Tim.

Album available here:


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