Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 80)

Reviews originally published in Issue 80 of Electronic Sound magazine, August 2021:

(Ghost Box)

“Toi Toi Toi!” For those not overly familiar with the superstitious rituals of the operatic world, it’s a pre-show blessing whispered in the wings before a performance; a folkloric “break a leg” designed to frighten away evil spirits from sensitive tenors and sopranos. Thankfully, Berlin-based Sebastian Counts seems entirely unaffected by such devilish hexes. His second album for Ghost Box – after 2017’s wistful Im Hag – is a splendidly jolly excursion into Mittel-European medieval traditions. 

Not many Ghost Box albums begin with a cheery whistle, but album opener ‘Schlendersilber’ does exactly that, before launching into endearingly unsteady synth-folk wobbliness. Then ‘Never A Dull Moment’ is a giddy raid on the playtime music box, with pre-school guitars and parping melodies wrapping themselves around clip-clop rhythms. There’s light and shade, though: while ‘Kuckuckswalzer’ boasts infectious childish giggling and the call of a comedy cuckoo, ‘The Inner Hobo’ is a restless evocation of haunting train whistles and aching wanderlust.

Those determined to incorporate the album into Ghost Box’s trademark playground of half-forgotten analogue TV may cite faded memories of The Singing Ringing Tree, Heidi, or – indeed – any of the imported European serials that brought smiling goatherds and the occasional Alp to pale summer holiday mornings on BBC2. But Vaganten is steeped in older traditions. The word itself relates to the itinerant monks that wandered central Europe in the middle ages, fuelled by little more than ballads and a raging thirst for the local bier. It’s a sense of ruddy-faced Chaucerian abandon that pervades huge swathes of this charmingly melodic collection.  

Counts, away from the parallel world of his adopted label, is respected German artist Sebastian Gräfe, whose work – physical, conceptual and musical – is characterised by a sense of playful mischief and a desire to evoke magic. He’s a perfect fit for Ghost Box, whose boundaries continue to expand in deliciously unexpected directions. It’s no wonder closing track ‘Wrong Place, Good Times’ sounds positively paralytic. Abandoning sinister TV themes and leafy English woodland for riotous Early music and the Grimm fairytales of the Black Forest, they’ve taken us all on the most delightfully debauched holiday. 

Album available here:

Interview with Sebastian Counts here:

(Modern Aviation)

“A noise-drenched vision of escapism into an virtual otherworldly space,” is how Ben Winter describes this impressive follow-up to 2020’s debut album, Still Animals. He’s now based in London, but Foam reeks of the incoming tides of his native East Yorkshire – not least on the title track, a genuinely unsettling collage of muffled underwater clanks and detuned synth arpeggios. Disturbingly, it feels like the sound of an actual drowning.

Elsewhere, there is a lighter touch. ‘Wool’ is comprised of tinkling electronic pulses, an ascent into a particularly well-furnished otherworldly realm. Winter claims to be exploring the hinterland between technology and mythology, and the glacial cut-up voices of ‘Hyperspacial’ could easily be PA announcements from the departure lounge to Valhalla. Don’t get too relaxed, though: his knack for undercutting amniotic ambience with overwhelmingly darkness reaches its zenith on the eight-minute ‘Visions Of Hell’, the electronic equivalent of a Heironymous Bosch painting. Bridlington’s not that bad, is it?

Album available here:

Steps On The Turning Year
(Bezirk Tapes)

A potentially overwhelming experience for those with memories of austere school assemblies on buttock-numbing parquet floors. Adopting the sobriquet of the folkloric medieval Green Knight, Nottingham-based Rebecca Lee creates an epic, two-hour sound collage of mournful violas, wistful flutes and traditional song (hello, The Watersons) amid a seamless mish-mash of church bells, industrial clanks and the disembodied voices of badly-tuned longwave radios on late-night car journeys.

And it’s wonderful. Split into four half-hour suites, it sees the frosty hymnal ambience of opener ‘To And Fro’ succumb to the pastoral disquiet of ‘Singing Knives’, before the jazz-fuelled summer thunderstorm of ‘Bredbeddle Ballet’ gives way to the wintry, ritualistic concrète of ‘The Gavle Goat’. Haunted retro-futurists might draw comparisons with The Focus Group, others might imagine ‘Revolution 9’ assembled as a Fifth Form music project on a snowy Tuesday afternoon in 1981. Either way, it’s an evocative triumph from an artist who expertly turns distressed vinyl into distinctly affecting moods. 

Album available here:

Participation Mystique

“A rare event happened in early 2020,” claim married Portland duo Lore City. “Saturn directly aligned with Pluto within the constellation of Capricorn…” Thus were forged the ideal cosmic conditions for making this gently mystical fourth album. Laura Mariposa Williams and Eric Angelo Bessel mix dreampop textures with charming psychedelic synths, frequently sounding like Siouxsie Sioux fronting Dubstar. “I wish I could carry you through all that I have known,” sings Williams with heartfelt sensuality on ‘I Am The One’, her vocals frequently slipping into an almost wordless haze. Delightful.

Album available here:

This Will End In Love
(Castles In Space)

Capturing perfectly the frosted haziness of childhood memory, Rhode Island-based Emlyn Ellis Addison allows the follow-up to 2020’s It’s Not Too Early For Each Other to drift gently into the world. The spirit of Boards of Canada lingers, with ‘Field Patterns At Redpan’ the perfect accompaniment to drawing lazy finger shapes on the school bus window. Elsewhere, found voices drift through beat-driven radiophonic pulses. “The face you see exists in the past…” intones the somnambulant narrator of ‘Mirror In Your Mind’. The perfect summation of a woozily nostalgic collection.

Album available here:

Obstacle Navigation

Bill Gates might not be adding microchips to COVID vaccines, but are Korg possibly putting analogue patches in the Lancaster and District water supply? In the wake of Field Lines Cartographer, Polypores and Warrington Runcorn New Town Development Plan, here’s Richard Turner with a sparkling collection of instrumentals. ‘Valentina’ has the slab-like synths of mid-1970s Eno, ‘Arcade’ is Low-era Bowie dabbling with Atari soundtracks, and ‘Computertune’ a joyous evocation of the era when kids in snorkel parkas swarmed around the Donkey Kong machine in the corner of the municipal Youth Club.   

Album available here:

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


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