Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 71)

Reviews originally published in Issue 71 of Electronic Sound magazine, November 2020:

Dick and Stewart (OST)
(Castles In Space)

For Richard Littler, the 1970s is an illness. The artist and writer behind the extraordinary Scarfolk multi-media project, depicting a dystopian north-western town trapped in a perpetual Public Information Film of rabies, witchcraft and mind control, has now turned his gaze upon that most beloved of childhood institutions: the pre-teatime cartoon. And so the washed-out colour palettes and gentle, post-psychedelic malaise of Mr Benn and Mary, Mungo and Midge have been spoofed in Dick and Stewart, the animated tale of a wide-eyed 1970s schoolboy whose constant companion, a sentient eyeball, is all that remains of his dead best friend.

Providing a gloriously woozy soundtrack is Chris ‘Concretism’ Sharp, whose 2018 album For Concrete and Country was an unsettling evocation of Cold War Britain, with its secret bunkers and microwave relay stations. Dick and Stewart finds Sharp mining a gentler but no less unsettling musical seam: the unmistakable sound of, as Paul Weller once put it, “watching the news and not eating your tea.” The sickly arpeggios of ‘Too Many Teeth’ evoke perfectly the feeling of dread that arose as the closing titles of The Magic Roundabout faded and Angela Rippon began to speak sternly of “the arms race”. And it’s impossible to hear the listing mellotron of ‘Dick In Bed’ without experiencing a kind of Proustian revulsion for the taste of cellophane-wrapped Lucozade.

Like all of Littler’s work, Dick and Stewart uses the nightmarish tropes of his childhood to put a reinforced Monkey Boot into the sickness of the present day. The animation itself, available on YouTube, is a disturbing tale of state surveillance and its invasion of everyday life. ‘Everyone Likes to Watch’ is Sharp’s dizzying show tune paean to this intrusion, and ‘Watching Is Normal and Healthy’ a giddy, waltzing Wurlitzer of a follow-up. That diseased feeling, that unmistakeable sense of bed-ridden, hallucinatory illness, pervades throughout. It bleeds through from the 1970s into the present day. 2020 is – to say the least – unable to provide a cure, but Littler and Sharp have identified and encapsulated the root cause in affectingly uneasy fashion.

Album available here:

Chris Sharp interview here:

Richard Littler interview here:

Blair, Maryland
(Spun Out Of Control)

Who’s that lurking in the woods? Why, it’s the prolific Andy Fosberry, with a backpack full of vintage synths. Horror fan Fosberry has been immersing himself in The Blair Witch Project, creating an alternate film score that initially eschews his trademark beat-driven electronica for a traditional soundtrack approach. There are discordant piano motifs, ominous drums and scratchy violins galore, with the chilling ‘Figures in the Woods’ in particular owing more to Bernard Herrman than Bernard Sumner.

But dark, electronic noise creeps in almost imperceptibly from the shadows, culminating in Side Two’s ‘The Synth Extensions’: the reinterpreting of six of these tracks in Fosberry’s more traditional style. And he’s seemingly joined in the woods by both John Carpenter and Angelo Badalamenti, both of whom cast an influential spell over proceedings. Fosberry’s gift of combining both melody and atmosphere is never lost amid this stylistic flexing, and he’s made a darkly enticing album that drifts through the trees with splendidly evil intent.

Album available here:

Beyond The Mirror’s Image
(Burning Witches)

Death Walks On Nitrate
(Library Of The Occult)

Picture, if you will, Dream Division’s Tom McDowell. Seduced by the occult, his fingers dance across a bank of cobweb-coated analogue synths; cursed by a Faustian pact to produce highly entertaining horror soundtracks for the rest of eternity. Good job really, because this brace of new releases are terrific fun. Beyond The Mirror’s Image is the album, a riot of John Carpenter synths evoking the new wave of late 70s US horror. The pounding likes of ‘Reflections’ and ‘Prism of Desire’ are the perfect accompaniment to idle thoughts of dead Victorian sailors on the prowl.  

Meanwhile, Death Walks On Nitrate is a genuine soundtrack EP on his own label, and it is darkly groovy psychedelia, replete with devil’s chords and wah-wah guitars. McDowell cites the Giallo scores of Bruno Nicolai as an influence, but funky numbers like ‘Red Room’ conjure more the golden age of British horror, and a wide-eyed Madeline Smith drinking Ribena from a silver goblet. Wonderful.

Albums available here:

It’s Not What It Seems
(The Burning Trestle)

Who remembers the post-punk Peel Session mavericks of the early 1980s? Chemical Gary, Pinchneedle and the Tourniquet Twins? Well nobody, obviously, because Hampshire prankster Jez Stevens has made them all up and wantonly dished them out to a dozen stalwarts of the retro electronica scene. So the likes of Keith Seatman, Martin “Pye Corner Audio” Jenkins and Ghost Box’s Jim Jupp gleefully hide behind their designated pseudonyms to evoke an era of scratchy guitars, Woolworths synths and the trebly hiss of a C60 sold from the back of a unhygienic Transit van.

And the real stroke of genius? We have no idea who made what. But whoever got “Dead Pilot” in the Stevens sweepstake might just have heard the occasional Cabaret Voltaire record, and ‘Bus Shelter Wife’ by “Subterranean Slugz” has more than a hint of mid-80s Fall. The fun is in the guessing… and rattling fun it is, too. A goldmine for those of us who still tingle beneath the bedsheets whenever we contemplate the immortal phrase: “Two more from them later”.

Album available here:

(Woodford Halse)

It’s doubtful even Stephen James Buckley himself knows how many Polypores records he’s made in 2020, but his workrate might be explained by the stated mission of Tempus. Namely, “the manipulation of the time domain through music.” It’s a blissful collection of amniotic modular workouts, with the likes of ‘Clockworms’ and ‘Dreamtime’ unfolding with hypnotic, mathematical precision. He is an utter treasure, and – if his time manipulation experiments are successful – he’ll probably record another six albums before the turn of 2019.

Album available here:

Esoteric Healing: Friend Or Foe?
(Emotion Wave

Relax, everyone… as Lo Five’s Neil Grant takes inspiration from an occult-tinged tragedy at a New Age healers’ conference. “My name is Diana Phoenix,” intones the icy voiceover on opener ‘Magical Greetings’, “Founder of the Association of Naturopathic Therapists and Transpersonal Psychologists.” What follows is a splendidly sinister concoction of manipulated muzak, glacial ambience and chilling psychobabble about “auras”, mercilessly conveying Grant’s waspish scepticism. Bonus points, too, for being surely the only release of 2020 to include an actual coroner’s report.

Album available here:

Devotional Syndrome
(Woodford Halse)

Just like Meghan Trainor, Martin Jensen is all about that bass. There the similarities arguably end, but the floor-shaking power of Luxembourg-based Jensen’s favourite instrument fuels this knee-trembling collection. The one-time Copenhagen club scenester pours his love of vintage Detroit techno and Chicago house into low-frequency stompers like ‘Midnight Reunion’ and ‘Waterslide Sleepbox’, and the closing title track – all impudent hi-hats, disco grooves and magnificently retro sampled exaltations – is simply irresistible. To quote extensively from the lyric itself: “Bass!” Nuff said.

Album available here:

Martin Jensen interview:

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