Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 78)

Reviews originally published in Issue 78 of Electronic Sound magazine, June 2021:

MEURIG ELIS HUWS
Bellectronic (1980-1984)
Strategic Tape Reserve


The story as we’re told it: in 1979, 20-year-old church bellringer Meurig Elis Huws won the football pools and spent the proceeds on building a modest home studio where he proceeded to transform his favourite campanology patterns into inordinately complex synth workouts, clang by clang. After his death in 2020, Meurig’s unheard reel-to-reel tapes were uncovered by his nephew Gwern, and here they are: a series of traditional bellringing patterns played on analogue synths. ‘Plain Bob Doubles’, ‘Grandsire Triples’, ‘Reverse Stedman Triple’ and the like. That is, quite simply, what they are.

Some may cynically question the veracity of this splendidly shaggy tale, but who cares? The whole caper is utterly hypnotic and clearly a labour of inordinate love. There are the evocative skitters of some ancient drum machine, the authentic hiss of decaying tape stock and an overwhelming air of obsessive eccentricity that simply reeks of lonely, autumnal afternoons in a converted shed in North Wales. It’s either a treasured relic from a bygone age or the perfect facsimile of one, and either way it’s unexpectedly and gloriously touching. 

Album available here:
https://strategictapereserve.bandcamp.com/album/bellectronic-1980-1984

DOHNAVÙR
The Flow Across Borders
(Castles In Space)

Crikey, what a delightfully mixed bag this is. Album opener ‘New Objectivity’ might be built from the same somnambulent throbs as Apollo-era Eno, but the spoken word ‘Phlá Doiléir’ (translation: ‘The Vague Plague’) is a wonderfully bile-filled diatribe laying bare the crappiness of post-Brexit Britain. “Dealers and nutjobs in a village known for pies are selling their lies…” sneers poet Martin Christie, as dark slabs of noise swirl around him. It’s electrifying.

It all began when Ali O’May and Frazer Brown met at an Edinburgh Open Mic night run by Christie, and their burgeoning friendship resulting in the exchange of a USB drive filled with O’May’s unpolished stems. Brown applied the fairy dust, and Dohnavùr – named after O’May’s family home – were forged. The resulting record feels like an explosion of influences, from the head-thumping Orbital-on-overdrive beats of ‘Sunk’ to the Vangelis ambience of the closing ‘Pass Remarkable’, but the duo find their own voices too. And The Orb’s accompanying 12” remix of the opening track provides justified patronage for an impressive second album.

Album available here:
https://dohnavur-cis.bandcamp.com/album/the-flow-across-borders

SALVATORE MERCATANTE
Tre Sfere
(Woodford Halse)

Meaty, beaty stuff from the New York-based Mercantate. Previous album ‘The Foundations of Eternal Sin’ was gently reflective, but something has clearly rattled his cage for this stridently purposeful follow-up. There are even nods to 1980s synth-pop: opening track ‘Yimble’ has a driving beat that’s surely unintentionally reminiscent of ‘99 Red Balloons’, and ‘Pietro’ feels like a heartfelt Art of Noise homage. There are mellow moments too though, with ‘Amviente’ offering blissed-out Berlin school ambience before seven-minute closer ‘A Still Mountain Never Seen’ builds to a rousing climax.

Album available here:
https://salvatoremercatante.bandcamp.com/album/wf-26-tre-sfere

HAWKSMOOR
On Prescription
(Spun Out Of Control)

Anyone still feeling the shivers from their COVID jab might find this a little overwhelming, but Bristol’s James McKeown has been using languid synths to gently explore the aesthetics of prescription drugs. And there have been pleasant side effects: namely a distinct twitching of his musical muscles. So ‘Zolador’ adds a slow funk beat and chattering guitars, and ‘Calzalex’ even has a whiff of chiptune. It’s woozily beautiful, the titles are anagrams of existing treatments (whatever you do, don’t take ‘Kisqualin’ on an empty stomach) and all proceeds go to Cancer Research.

Album available here:
https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/on-prescription

MOTH EFFECT
Hovering
(Cue Dot)

The sixth release on the nascent but impressive Cue Dot label, Moth Effect is Sussex drone enthusiastic Andy Le Gresney, and ‘Hovering’ an unexpectedly upbeat collection of offbeam stompers. Slathered in komische synths and enough grumbling post-punk guitars to make veteran John Peel fans shudder under their blankets, it’s terrific fun. ‘Hot Chocolate II’ is sleazy new wave funk, ‘More Work’ is Giorgio Moroder having a crack at PiL and ‘Shader’ even has a disco beat and bassline liable to conjure a Proustian whiff of Brut 33 and Cinzano Bianco.

Album available here:
https://cuedotrecords.bandcamp.com/album/hovering

PULSE:

Mabe Fratti

Who she? 

A supremely talented Guatemalan cellist now living in Mexico City. Her second album Será Que Ahora Podremos Entendernos? (translation: “Will We Be Able To Understand Each Other Now?”) builds on her classical training with ambient soundscapes, a dream pop sensibility and her own transcendental vocals.

Listening to Aphex Twin was something that changed everything,” she explains. “But when I think about direct influences: Cluster, Oneohtrix Point Never, DAF, Laurie Anderson, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Vangelis. And listening to productions and sounds made by machines in the 1980s: Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, Peter Gabriel’s So… these are very inspiring.”

Why Mabe Fratti?  

She lives for her art. When lockdown struck, she was holed up in La Orduña, an artist’s retreat just outside Mexico City. “I felt a peacefulness that made the process of creating the album easy”, she recalls. “I always talk about the birds just singing in the background, and bleeding into the microphones. I also recorded some insects, and put them on the album…”

Texan sound artist Claire Rousay collaborates on exquisite lead single ‘Hacia El Vacio’.

“Claire is amazing,” says Mabe. “I met her here in Mexico City, we played a couple of shows together. And once I got a track that talked about intimacy and vulnerability I thought her sounds – which are so intimate – would fit perfectly.”

Tell us more…

Experimental Mexican band Tajak also contribute to a complex but shimmeringly beautiful collection. “The album is about the use of words as an effort to change or create some reality,” adds Mabe. “And how language sometimes is a very ‘clumsy’ tool… there are so many ways to say something. We use words to create some sort of spell.”

And she’s playing in London in October. Presumably she’s looking forward to it?

“VERY! Cafe OTO is one of the places I’ve dreamt of playing in. I feel very, very lucky and thankful…”

Album available here:
https://tinangelrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ser-que-ahora-podremos-entendernos

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

https://electronicsound.co.uk/


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