Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 75)

Reviews originally published in Issue 75 of Electronic Sound magazine, March 2021:

THE HARDY TREE
The Fields Lie Sleeping Underneath
(Clay Pipe)

MICHAEL TANNER AND KERRIE ROBINSON
Thalassing
(Clay Pipe)


Sometime in the 1860s, aspiring novelist Thomas Hardy  –  then a humble architect’s assistant  –  was tasked with shifting several hundred gravestones across the grounds of St Pancras Old Church to make way for the incoming railway line. He artfully arranged them around the trunk of a giant elm tree, where they remain to this day: stacked shoulder to shoulder, with the tree’s inquisitive roots now creeping stealthily between them. It’s a beautifully macabre sight, emblematic of London’s multi-layered history. And, as such, the perfect summation of Frances Castle’s Clay Pipe label, now celebrating ten years of releasing music with a profound connection to place, and the mysteries of what does  –  indeed  –  lie sleeping underneath.

Castle took “The Hardy Tree” as the sobriquet for her debut Clay Pipe project, one of a brace of reissues to celebrate the label’s anniversary. Originally released in 2010, it’s a wistful, folk-jazz exploration of London’s vanished corners. “Hornsea House is run by two sisters / Deep in the woods, they serve tea and oysters / Gone, all gone, all gone,” she sings dreamily on ‘Long Gone’, a waltzing procession of semi-Dickensian vignettes worthy of Ray Davies’ more autumnal moments. In fact, autumnal is the watchword here, with October sunshine tumbling through the gaps in Castle’s Casio and violin-drenched recitals. ‘Walter R Stokes’ and ‘Fanny J Fluck’ are both named after early 20th century residents of her North London home, and this charming collection is a sweet, understated elegy to their memory.

Also reissued is Clay Pipe’s second release, Thalassing. Improvised in 2011 by Michael Tanner and Kerrie Robinson to accompany a screening of Robert J Flaherty’s 1934 documentary Man of Aran, it is infused with the film’s unflinching depiction of life on these remote Irish islands. ‘The Fan of the Lobster’s Tail’ is a gentle lapping of the tides, a hypnotic guitar motif submerged by a wheezing squeezebox, and ‘Emerald Palace’ a delicate evocation of the spectral qualities of the sea. In the last decade, both albums have themselves almost become part of a forgotten history, and these reissues are a welcome reminder of Clay Pipe’s quiet majesty.

Albums available here:

http://www.claypipemusic.co.uk/2021/01/clay-pipe-music-ten-year-anniversary.html

LO FIVE
God’s Waiting Room
(Miracle Pond)

DOGS VERSUS SHADOWS
The Eavesdrop
(Miracle Pond)

“Serene ennui, patient acceptance and mild disillusionment”. So says Neil “Lo Five” Grant of the mental state that inspired God’s Waiting Room, one of a brace of Miracle Pond releases reflecting 21st century torpor and paranoia. ‘Low Plaines Drifter’ sets the tone beautifully, its tinkling music box and solemn omnichord punctuating the clatter of lonely, lockdown footsteps. The title track, meanwhile, is an exquisitely elegiac harp recital, and ‘Two Turtle Doves’ a heartbreaking evocation of Christmas home-schooling. Music for staring blankly through the kitchen window at 2.30pm, wondering what the queue is like at Asda.

Drumming his fingers to a more sinister tune is Lee “Dogs Versus Shadows” Pylon, with The Eavesdrop intended as a dark reflection on modern surveillance culture. It’s an affecting collection of juddering synth melodies and Radiophonic concrète, and listeners who can hear the ominous ‘Tuck’ without glancing nervously over their shoulder are to be commended for their own sense of serene ennui.

Albums available here:

https://thelo5.bandcamp.com/album/gods-waiting-room

https://dogsversusshadowsmp.bandcamp.com/album/the-eavesdrop

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Undercurrents
(Buried Treasure)

Blimey! Buried Treasure overlord Alan Gubby has fulfilled the remit of his label’s name with knobs on, and his Indiana Jones-style rummaging has turned up 16 tracks of camp, cavalier library music from the Josef Weinberger archive. It is insane amounts of fun! Epitomised by Pete Smith’s wah-wah driven ‘Rock Minus Zero’, the title music from inexplicably overlooked 1975 flick Highway Hookers, in which “rebellious vixen-brats” go on a “mad sex rampage”. Honestly, it sounds exactly as you’d imagine.  

From late 1960s suave to early 1980s electro, there’s a soundtrack for every imagined mood here. Fancy yourself as a cool blaxploitation private eye in a long leather coat? You need the strutting basslines of Mo Foster’s ‘Times Square’. A Peter Wyngarde-esque lothario in a silk kimono? Mix your martinis to the grooves of Bob Downes’ ‘Eastern Sunset’. And it’s impossible to hear the funky trumpet of Derek Austin’s romantically-titled ‘Tape Worm’ without feeling the urge to grow mutton chop sideburns the size of a sub-continent. Glorious.

Album available here:

https://buriedtreasure.bandcamp.com/album/undercurrents

WINGED MA’AT
Man Is An Insect
(Bloxham Tapes)

TEARS|OV
Pluto’s Return
(Bloxham Tapes)


A brace of releases from the esoteric Bloxham Tapes. Veering distinctly towards the arch are the Egypt-obsessed Winged Ma’at, a duo comprising  –  wait for it  –  both Ra and Thoth. It’s entirely possible this epic-sounding sophomore album was recorded in a bedroom in Stroud, but the veil is never dropped: track titles include ‘Cult of Amun-Re’ and ‘Judgement of Osiris’, and the argul and the mizmar – ancient Arabic instruments both – are manipulated to sinister, doom-laden effect. It’s cerrtainly hard to argue with an album boasting a sleeve credit for “Tutankhamun’s Trumpets”.

Tears|Ov, meanwhile, are Lori E Allen, Katie Spafford and Deborah Wale, and Pluto’s Return is their dream-like response to Covid’s “two-faced gift of fear and time”. We’re talking two extended suites here. ‘Soul Cycle Emergency Contact’ builds on Spafford’s scything cello with rumbling concrète, some troubling coughing and a somnambulant voiceover laying the blame for the pandemic squarely on astrological factors. And ‘Send In The Clowns’ is expertly disorientating sound collage with beat-ridden snatches of Sondheim. Disturbing and hypnotic.

Albums available here:

https://bloxhamtapes.bandcamp.com/album/man-is-an-insect

https://bloxhamtapes.bandcamp.com/album/plutos-return

PERSONAL BANDANA
This Time It’s…
(Woodford Halse)


It’s easy to assume the haunted aesthetic of retro-futurist electronica is a uniquely British phenomenon, but Virginia-based Dave Gibson and Travis Thatcher are here to prove otherwise. Personal Bandana‘s hugely enjoyable fifth album teeters on the cusp of the digital 1980s, a riot of parping Casios on hissy tape that effortlessly summons the ghosts of crackly, US public access documentaries. ‘Moon Myths’ is the strident opener, verging on the anthemic, and ‘Radar Maps’ is only missing an earnest Leonard Nimoy voiceover. Schoolbooks out, class.   

Album available here:
https://personalbandana.bandcamp.com/album/wf-23-this-time-its

THE HEARTWOOD INSTITUTE AND HAWKSMOOR
Concrete Island
(Spun Out Of Control)

Cumbria’s Jonathan Sharp and Bristol’s James McKeown split the petrol money for a musical homage to JG Ballard’s classic 1974 novel of the same title. The book strands architect Robert Maitland in the liminal wilderness between motorway intersections, and the album is a suitably dystopian evocation of Brutalist isolation. ‘Through The Crash Barrier’ is a terrifying slab of Numan-esque rush-hour synths, and ‘Median Strip’ similarly conjures the all-pervading hiss of high-speed traffic. Elsewhere, there are PiL basslines and pattering motorik rhythms. A bleakly beautiful collection.

Album available here:
https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/concrete-island

PULSELOVERS
Pulselovers
(Bandcamp)


The baby steps of Mat Handley’s Pulselovers project. This reissued debut album, originally released in 2016, is impressive in both ambition and eclecticism. Stately opener ‘Ronco Dreams’, fuelled by a distinctively medieval rhythm, could almost be Dead Can Dance, and the semi-industrial ‘It’s All In The Detail’  –  one of a trio of tracks boasting Handley’s own baritone vocals  –  has a whiff of mid-1980s Depeche Mode. Meanwhile, ‘Last Day of Summer’ has sitars and tablas, and album highlight ‘Autumn Arrives’ is breezy, yearning electronica.

Album available here:
https://pulselovers.bandcamp.com/album/pulselovers

PULSE:
THE ALL GOLDEN

Who he? 

Pete Gofton, but he’s a man of many pseudonyms. In the 1990s he was Johnny X, drummer with chart-bothering Sunderland punk kids Kenickie, a band fronted – of course – by his sister Lauren Laverne. In the 2000s, he became folktronica wizard J Xaverre. Now he’s The All Golden, and his new album Pagodas is an utterly charming collection of teenage and twentysomething four-track recordings, finally given the finishing touches.

“I had a filing cabinet full of cassettes,” he explains. “It followed me across country, through multiple house moves. A lot of them I have no memory of making, which is perfect… I wanted to be my own cover band.”

Why The All Golden?

The name comes from a track on Van Dyke Parks’ classic 1967 album Song Cycle, and two tracks on ‘Pagodas’ are titled in honour of avant-garde classical singer Cathy Berberian.

“I don’t know her music too well, I just like that she was mentioned in a Steely Dan song,” admits Pete. The album itself is sweetly redolent of a halcyon age for bedroom taping: there are trilling acoustic guitars, wobbly synths and pattering drum machines.

“Being the hoarder I am, I still had my four-track recorder, and some of the instruments I used on the original tapes,” he says. “I tried to retain the arrangements… four tracks maximum, with the original mistakes left in.”  

Tell us more…

“I like the idea of finishing things I began decades ago,” he adds. “Not enough stuff ends nowadays. I even had an initial idea of doing something auto-destructive with the tapes themselves. I was going to wrap copies of the album in the unspooled master tapes. Probably a bit too messy and time consuming, though.”

Album available here:
https://musiqueparavion.bandcamp.com/album/pagodas