Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 72)

Reviews originally published in Issue 72 of Electronic Sound magazine, December 2020:

Six Twenty Negative
(Castles In Space)

Remember joy? Remember smiling? Remember listening to music infused with such a sense of fun that it made you want to clap your hands and burst out laughing? Such feelings have been scarce recently, but rejoice! Salvation is at hand. Over the rolling hills of ceaseless misery ride the unlikely cavalry of Jez Butler and Polly Hulse. From Bristol they come, carelessly swinging a faded Woolworths carrier bag of utterly daffy Radiophonic tunes, effortlessly evoking the freewheeling delights of bunking off school on a sunny afternoon. Or, even better, bunking off 2020 in the middle of a miserable December.

Just as with 2018’s Tree Little Milk Egg Book And Other Non Sequiturs, Butler and Hulse joyously wear their influences on their sleeves… and their sleeves undoubtedly boast three vintage Adidas stripes and a couple of Blue Peter badges. We’re talking Paddy Kingsland and John Baker here, and the kind of upbeat, giddy daytime TV library music that made 1970s toddlers dance unselfconsciously around the front room. ‘Lincoln Castle Engine Room’ and ‘New Holland Pier’ take jaunty inspiration from Butler’s Cleethorpes childhood, crossing the Humber on a British Rail paddle steamer. ‘Radical Emerging’ and ‘Elastic Limit’ are the themes from long-forgotten BBC2 Schools and Colleges modules, and somehow miraculously make O-Level Physics feel like the answer to all of life’s current miseries.

If making music so gloriously gleeful is novel, then by all means dismiss them as a novelty band. See if they care. But do not, under any circumstances, underestimate the sheer melodic invention on display here. Because The Twelve Hour Foundation have tunes. Tunes that bounce with brio, tunes that milkmen could whistle on their morning rounds and still find stuck in their heads during Nationwide. And, at the end of such a tragic and turgid year, let’s not feel ashamed of taking our joys wherever we can find them. From albums like Six Twenty Negative. From gleeful nostalgia. From upbeat workouts on battered old Moogs and rhythms created by wooden rulers being mischievously boinged on the edges of school tables. Go on, crack that bloody smile. You’ve earned it.  

Album available here:

(Spun Out Of Control)

(Spun Out Of Control)

High concepts? With Spun Out Of Control, they’re usually stratospheric, and this brace of albums overflows with the label’s trademark cinematic flair. Monochrome Echo is Divine Comedy bassist Simon Little, and Moonkeeper is the soundtrack to dark alien forces awakening on the satellites of Jupiter, inspiring a slick collection of melodic instrumentals that will delight fans of Jean-Michel Jarre and Peter Davison-era Doctor Who alike. The anthemic ‘A Race Against Time’ is the key track here, an exciting foot-on-the-floor gear change that lends the album’s closing stages a compelling urgency.

Album available here:

Meanwhile, Italian synth wizard Valerio Lombardozzi unfairly claims the monopoly on two cool names by masquerading as German kosmische maestro Heinrich Dressel. Shapeshifting takes inspiration from classic “creature feature” horror flicks, combining ambient shimmer (opener ‘MacReady Rescue Team’ has an Eno-esque sheen) with a growing sense of pulsating menace that – entirely appropriately – evokes the work of John Carpenter. A typically assured salvo from a label that has created its own  impressively widescreen world. 

Album available here:

Scarred For Life 2
(Castles In Space)

Remember controversial Danish cartoon Lobster Boy, with its lascivious mermaids? Action-packed 1970s crime drama Dobbs and Clogg? The teatime science fiction of The Brain Children? Stop lying – they’ve been invented by The Home Current, Pulselovers and The Twelve Hour Foundation respectively for a bumper second volume of this endlessly fun project, as the icy grip of unsettling vintage TV on a generation of artists shows no signs of relenting.

Kev Oyston, of The Soulless Party, has once again pressganged an impressive roster of contributors to ransack their collective imagined childhoods. There are moments of beauty, with Keith Seatman’s portentous ‘One Lost Weekend’ evoking memories of some ponderous 1980s Play For Today, and Oliver Cherer’s ‘Down White Corridors’ somehow contriving to sound like Mike Oldfield covering the theme to World In Action. And Oyston’s hymnal ‘A School At War’ is simply made for morning assemblies on freezing parquet floors, shuffling uncomfortably before a TV set in a battered wooden cabinet.

Album available here:

Formic Kingdom

(Woodford Halse)

“It’s about giant ants,” deadpans Mark Burford, concisely nailing the inspiration behind his fifth album of 2020. Fired by his love of 70s sci-fi flick Phase IV and blocky 80s computer game Ant Attack, the insect-loving Lancastrian weaves gently unsettling soundscapes around his own tall tale of a New Mexico research facility overrun by genetically-enhanced critters.

As with September’s similarly fantastical The Spectral Isle, Burford allows banks of vintage modular synths to swell to both soothing and sinister effect. So album opener ‘Atomic Desert’ is windswept with a vague hint of menace, and Side 1 closer ‘Call Of The Queen’ feels like Tangerine Dream scoring deliciously low-budget monster movies. The album certainly owes more to the cinematic than to the bleeps of Burford’s beloved 8-bit chips, and by the time we reach nine-minute closer ‘A Different Utopia’, the message is clear. The ants have taken over, and their kingdom throbs to the sound of widescreen, melodic ambience.

Album available here:

And a bonus…

Shimmering Basset
(Upset The Rhythm)

In which accomplished California furniture-maker Raven Mahon decamps to an idyllic Melbourne beach house on stilts (the house, that is – not her) to construct this exquisite pop album. Mahon and co-conspirator Mikey Young effortlessly dovetail influences, so ‘Tony Bandana’ evokes The Pixies, ‘Health Farm’ boasts classic Bowie-in-Berlin stylings, and ‘Witness’ is a glacial banger worthy of Propaganda. Mahon’s crystalline vocals lend a glistening veneer of longing to an already polished collection. 

Album available here:

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