Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 73)

Reviews originally published in Issue 73 of Electronic Sound magazine, January 2021:

The Sleepers
(Spun Out Of Control)

“I kept thinking about 1970s science fiction,” says Hattie Cooke. “And dystopian films like Logan’s Run…”

On the cusp of an impressive 2019 transformation from lo-fi acoustic troubadour to Brighton synth queen, Cooke produced this glacial imagined soundtrack, now remastered and reissued as a deluxe vinyl edition. In addition to her beloved downbeat sci-fi, the nihilistic influence of 1970s disaster movies weighs heavily on proceedings – and Cooke, clearly a frustrated screenwriter, has concocted an entire plotline. A worldwide sleeping sickness has baffled the scientific community, and intrepid heroine Maude is seeking to infiltrate the sinister cult who have kidnapped her affected son. This uneasy tussle between sickness, science and superstition informs a pensive and poignant album that, given the events of 2020, now also feels alarmingly prescient.

Cooke claims Erik Satie and Philip Glass as influences, and transposes their minimalist approach to a bank of analogue synths. ‘Evacuation’ and ‘Run’, are early salvos of eerie foreboding – the former propelled by staccato Michael Nyman rhythms, the latter boasting hints of Mark Snow’s X Files theme. But Cooke’s formative years as an open-hearted songwriter of confessional ballads bleed through, too. For The Sleepers is a love story, depicting not just Maude’s desperate concern for her absent son, but also her inadvertent feelings for a fellow cult member. So ‘Safe Arms’ and ‘Survival’ have a warm, beating heart that pulses and palpitates to touching effect.

This director’s cut of the album boasts an extra offering – an anthemic, beat-driven title track missing from last year’s cassette release. Cooke is promising a new 2021 album that marries her burgeoning love affair with the analogue synth to her background as a traditional singer-songwriter, an exciting proposition from an artist who already brings a welcome human touch to the world of electronica. In the meantime, The Sleepers acts as proof positive of her meticulous and downright thoughtful approach to the genre. As the album is reissued, Cooke will turn 30 – a milestone that could yet herald a new beginning for her. Which is more than you can say for anyone in Logan’s Run.

Album available here:

Hattie Cooke interview here:

Immortal Death
(Third Kind Tapes)

It’s melodic, it’s organic and it occasionally sounds like Kraftwerk soundtracking Italian horror movies. Toronto-based Malone clearly has a flare-covered foot in the prog-rock camp, effortlessly hopping between tempos and time signatures. Dramatic album opener ‘Under The Lake, Between The Sky’ even boasts an imposing Jon Lord-style organ workout that will thrill anyone who has ever rolled a Rizla on the back sleeve of The Book of Taliesyn.

But intentions may be darker than they seem. Malone himself describes the album as “a soundtrack to a breakdown”, and certainly there are moments of melancholy. ‘Fixed To The Horizon, The Gales Await’ has the glacial detachment of Tubular Bells, and ‘Crack’d The Spines And Spires Alike’ is densely troubling, with a distinct sense of foreboding. But a sense of playful invention always pervades, and album closer ‘Hooded Dawn’ boasts a counterpoint melody of cautious sunshine, flickering through the gloom.

Album available here:

Witchcraft Murders
(Libary Of The Occult)

In 1943, the body of an unidentified woman was found inside the trunk of an elm tree in Hagley Wood, Worcestershire – a crime that inspired decades of sinister West Midlands graffiti (“Who put Bella in the wych elm?”) and has become the stuff of folklore. In 1945, farm worker Charles Walton was found killed with his own pitchfork in the tiny Warwickshire village of Lower Quinton. Both cases remain unsolved, and have been linked to local rumours of witchcraft. 

Cumbria’s Jonathan Sharp, fascinated by these suggestions of the occult, has opened a musical investigation. Opener ‘In The Shadow Of Meon Hill’ is darkly melodic, infused with the spirit of the early 1980s Radiophonic Workshop. And it sets the tone for an evocative, affecting record that could be exploitatively macabre, but instead treats its subject with sensitivity. There is no melodrama here: ‘Fabian Investigates’ is diligently dramatic, and ‘Hand of Glory’ swirls mysteriously. An album where analogue synths meet agrarian darkness.

Album available here:

(Woodford Halse)

“Hazy summer montages, worn film and distant fuzzy rock radio. Festivals staring at shifting clouds, green grass tickling your neck…” So says Barry “Apta” Smethurst of the feel he was aiming to capture on this superlative collection of instrumentals. Based in Manchester, he cites Sigur Ros and Boards of Canada as influences, but the album has more in common with the sense of pastoral stillness evoked so perfectly by Brian Eno on the blissful second side of Before And After Science.

It shimmers. It soothes. It is an idle sunny afternoon of a record, steeped in restless daydreams of hovering dragonflies and slow-moving water. ‘12v’ is the most Eno-esque, a delicate dance of puckish guitar and electric piano slowly subsumed by the ebb of modular synths. ‘Spark’ is five minutes of impudent pizzacato that launches into the softest of beats, and closer ‘The Inward Eye’ is a gentle awakening with a smile a mile wide. Beautiful.

Album available here:

Trig Point
(Subexotic Records)

These charming, woozy recordings by Leeds producer Joshua Hughes first circulated on a Boards of Canada forum in 2017, but have now been polished for official release. Tracks like ‘Twin Lakes’ and ‘Cold Man’ certainly boast the same fuzzy, frosted-glass hum of radiophonica that epitomised early Boards albums, and the title track has an affectingly desolate feel – the ambience of open moorland and gloriously bleak Yorkshire vistas. Elsewhere, chattering beats combine with drifting field recordings that – one suspects – may even have been made in an actual field.

Album available here:

Neon Plague

In the midst of a pandemic with its own distinctly dystopian feel, Chester-based brothers Steve and Peter Dandy felt driven to create this eclectic collection, emulating the dark, sci-fi soundtracks of their square-eyed youth. So ‘Jump Cut’ boasts skittering beats and Bollywood strings, whereas ‘Undermind’ sounds like Roger Limb wrestling with Portishead. But the unifying feel is tense and cinematic… never less so than in the concluding ‘Tech Noir’, in which a grizzled John Carpenter flips down his shades and drives stoically away from the smoking ruins of 2020.

Album available here:

A White Painted Piano

This offbeam project from Stratford-based David Paul Phillips, named after the discounted servicemen in his childhood toyshop, playfully throws together Erik Satie pianos, clockwork rhythms and vintage Moogs. Opener ‘Reason’ is straight from a 1970s ‘Play School’ album, missing only a jaunty Derek Griffiths vocal, whereas ‘Hurtz!’ and the wistful title track – an homage to his late parents – are infused with elegiac melancholy. Elsewhere, there’s a banging version of J.S Bach’s ‘Prelude and Fugue No 1 in C Major’. An utterly eccentric delight. 

Album available here: