Local Sound Developer is an alias of St. Albans-based electronic musician Damon Vallero, and the evocative title of this twelve-track album – Damaged Textures – could well sum up this intricately-presented album far better than any review I could write.
The sleight of hand that Vallero uses here is to blend together droning loops, enveloping ambience, clipped microscopically-detailed sounds and traces of rhythmic pulses with more organic sounds – what could be a reed sound from a Mellotron, snatches of overheard chatter and held tones reminiscent of an organ. The result, on tracks like the tense ‘Safe House’ or the wonky ‘A Town Stood Still’, is disconcerting, like Vallero is soundtracking some sort of weird, nonsensical but unsettling fever dream, encapsulating that disorienting notion that things simply don’t feel right.
There is also a fragility here that’s often easy to miss. The countermelodies of ‘Behind The Façade’ are mournful and searching, floating to the surface delicately like a desperate cry for help. ‘Hidden Places’ is among the more intriguing pieces here, skipping along gently like a broken music box, its melodic quotient feeling beautifully uneven, almost as if Vallero is deliberately trying to thwart a sense of familiarity from ever setting in. Opener ‘Never Found’ feels like Vallero has taken the coruscating peels of a jubilant bell and processed it with watery synth tones to leave you stranded somewhere in the tricky interzone between euphoria and abject pessimism, while ‘Under A Sun Shade’ is built from bucolic guitar lines that could, if you squint, sound like they belong on an exotica compilation.
Damaged Textures is a restless album, sitting in its individual no person’s land, and one whose complex, detailed design lightly commands your attention. One gets the impression that Vallero could quite easily suppress the instincts that give this album its distinctive, skewed centre of gravity and just produce music that drifts forth aimlessly; to his credit, he has made an album that prompts deep and frequently haunting reflection, that evolves and progresses with cautious deliberation.
Damaged Textures by Local Sound Developer was released November 6 2020 by Downstream Records.
Yifeat Ziv is a Jersulem-born, London-based sound artist who won one of the six coveted prizes at this year’s Oram Awards. With a practice focussed primarily on the use of voice, Ziv’s works include 2019’s Rish Rush, based on the prevalence of onomatopoeic gestures in all languages, performances at Café Oto, a collaboration with David Toop on his recent Apparition Paintings album, and sound installations at numerous galleries in Israel and the UK.
Amazonian Traces Of Self, Ziv’s latest work, arose from a ten-day AER Labverde residency in the Brazilian rainforest last year. For the piece, Ziv undertook a series of excursions into the rainforest, making field recordings of the natural ambience and capturing her own vocal improvisations, both of which are combined together into this thoughtful composition, here presented as a seventeen-minute live piece recored at Iklectik in January of this year, but which also has a parallel existence as a sound installation (The Echo Of Our Breath). The CD release is accompanied by an essay, designed to be read after listening to the piece.
If you are remotely environmentally-minded, any mention of the rainforest should, by rights, bring to mind the progressive deforestation and devastation that the natural landscape has endured as a consequence of humankind’s progress; whether for repurposing as land for rearing cattle or for growing the so-called ‘sustainable’ soya beans that propel the world’s biofuel hopes, the rainforest has decreased in size at a phenomenal rate – over 50% over the last 60 years.
By focussing its initial attentions on the natural sounds of the environment, the piece prompts complex emotions. There is a sense of tranquillity and serenity, but it also feels strangely unsettling, like a creeping sense of impermanence that coincides with Ziv’s reverberating vocal interjections – breath, a sort of staccato passage, tremulous, quivering passages and almost bird-like calls. These sounds feel alien, like they have no place in this location, something that Ziv describes as “vocal pollution”, an allegory for the way we have encroached upon, and starved, the Earth’s lungs. A middle section of wailing voices sounds like a desperate, mournful elegy to what is lost, what cannot be replaced and that which we have caused.
Yet as the piece progresses, Ziv’s layered vocal sounds take on a different hue. They feel curiously natural and optimistic, sitting in balanced evenness with the natural sounds that she is vocalising over. We start to feel a symbiosis between her sounds and those around her, almost as if she is gently reminding us of our dependency on this place, of how we can live in harmony with these spaces. A sense of optimism begins to emerge, a feeling that all is not lost, that our devastation of a place upon which we all depend for our live-giving oxygen is not yet entirely irreversible.
One of the earliest things I remember of the COVID-19 pandemic was how quiet the skies became. We live on a corridor that runs out of Heathrow, less than fifty miles south of us, and the unmistakeable drone of jet engines or the graceful plumes of parallel contrails, slowly dissipating behind an airliner, were part of the sonic and visual focal points of our skies.
I find myself returning to this recollection again when listening to ‘Three Sisters’ from Neil Stringfellow’s new Audio Obscura album. In ‘Three Sisters’, Francisco Cantú reads a story about his own lockdown experiences. He too notices the quietened skies and the sudden drop of air traffic by up to 95% as he contemplates the failure of the crops he tries to grow during lockdown. Where his forebears might have known instinctively how to work the land, Cantú watches as each of his crops – each one an ancient species common to North America – fails. It seems to underline, in a detached, almost resigned way, how little we understand of so much of that which sustains us.
Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene’s focus is squarely placed upon the proven reality that humankind has created the singularly destructive destiny we are now living through; whereas, at other points in Earth’s history, nature has wrecked devastation on our planet, setting in motion massive evolutionary changes and sculpting the way our home looks, the Anthropocene is entirely manmade. Even pandemics like COVID-19 are singled out in the words written by Stringfellow’s chosen experts, pre-eminent authorities on the Anthropocene like Professors Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, as symptoms of what we have wrought.
For Stringfellow, the motivation to produce this album came from parenthood. Like a lot of us, the introduction of children into your life gives you pause to think and reflect about the world that they will inherit. In Stringfellow’s case, this set in motion a three-year process of developing the album, seeking permission to use texts, gathering samples of the likes of Greta Thunberg and choosing narrators and collaborators. Its release on the eve of Halloween is appropriate, for this is likely the most unsettling, chilling thing you will experience this weekend.
Presented with an unflinching gaze upon the state of the world, how this came to be, and the tipping point we find ourselves at – or more than likely already beyond – Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene is a contemplative sequence of fifteen pieces. Skipping electronics, eerie birdsong, delicate strings are Stringfellow’s chosen backdrop for narrations by Cantú, Anders Harboe, Julia Blackburn, Simon Medley and others. Each piece is draped in either mournful texture or a sense of violence – fractured sounds, broken rhythms, cycles of abrasive dissonance. The effect, on pieces like ‘Welcome To The Anthropocene’ or the plaintive ‘Magpies’ is arresting; at times an aggressive tonality seems to shake you violently out of your complacency, quickening your pulse and giving genuine shivers.
It is the messages that are important here. Stringfellow’s role is thus that of the curator, creating the conditions for these messages to reach your ears, often in the most brutal and direct of ways. The album was concluded in lockdown, and we hear snippets of BBC broadcasts from the summer, when lockdown panic seemed to be receding and the forgotten – or, as is the actual case, linked – virus was further down the headlines; where the focus on ecological disaster once more became our focus. Wildfires ravaged vast tracts of land, another species lurched closer to extinction, and so depressingly on and on. Nothing had changed; we were just looking elsewhere, and that rather sums up our collective attitude to impending environmental doom.
Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene borrow its title from the classic novel by Gabriel García Márquez. Like the way that Márquez’s book peeled back the layers of life story of its protagonists, Stringfellow’s album does something similar with the Anthropocene, explaining its origins and painting an anguished picture of its irreversibility. Unlike Márquez’s book, however, there is no dark humour at play here; no one falls out of a tree trying to rescue a parrot. In Stringfellow’s case, the character saws down the tree, murders the parrot and thus proceeds to take a blowtorch to an ancient rainforest. It presents a damning indictment of humankind’s legacy, and the worst of all possible gifts to our children.
Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene by Audio Obscura was released October 30 2020.
Music for post-humanity: Watching is the follow-up to Edinburgh electronic musician Steven Anderson’s Proto Human, described by its creator as a casual surveying of the end of civilisation either through technology or a virus. Proto Human was released in February of this year, just as the world was lurching toward who knows what thanks to COVID-19, and where technological dependency was suddenly a reality for all of us if we actually wanted to stay connected.
Watching imagines what comes next. This is an album of wide-open spaces, unhurried melodies and a serene, almost soothing sense of realism and perspective. Its purview is the notion that what is going on with the human race can’t be all that there is out in the galaxy, that life must exist somewhere beyond our understanding. The effect is to give tracks like the corporeally-minded ‘Blood And Bone’, the mystique-heavy ‘In The Corner’ and the questing ‘Helix Nebula’ a feeling of discovery, the use of vintage-sounding electronics evoking some of the earliest electronic music.
There is a feeling of weightlessness to some of these pieces, while others suggest a weight being lifted from your shoulders. Beats drift into view gradually, pads ebb and flow around you like healing waves of cathartic sound, and melodies eddy and spin with grace and evanescence. Pieces like ‘1420 Megahertz’ and the haunting ‘Stars Went Missing’ are draped in foggy layers of thick reverb, meaning that when strident synth patterns and a crisp electro beat creep into view they are never presented aggressively, reinforcing a sense of expansiveness and wonder.
Amid the most harrowing global events we hope to witness in our lives, Anderson has created an album that takes a step back and tries to focus its electronic attentions on far greater concerns through the lens of an almost scientific enlightenment. The thirteen tracks here are dominated by a stateliness and an unhurried, slowly-evolving sense of purpose, one that asks us to look skyward, away from the trials and tribulations of a virus-ravaged Earth.
Watching by Letters From Mouse is released October 30 by Music Is The Devil.
Have you ever been broken up with by the same person twice? I have. If you thought the first time hurt, it’s nothing compare to the second time, which is as brutal and barbaric as someone running a knife through your already broken heart.
That’s kind of how I feel as we reach the fifth and final part of Front & Follow’s Isolation And Rejection series. I had only just got over the feeling of emptiness that Justin Watson’s label left when he shuttered it’s operations last year, only to suddenly feel rejuvenated at the announcement of this project. And now, as it draws to a close like the darkening evenings of a lockdown Autumn, I feel utterly bereft again.
Still, in many ways, Watson saved the best for last, as this collection of rejects includes some of the best material to have appeared in this whole series, the proceeds of which have all gone to The Brick charity in Wigan. The album commences with three grubby, edgy electronic belters – Assembled Minds’s ‘The Eeerie Machine Hums A Barley Song To The Sun’, Accidental Tones’s ‘Mute’ and ARC Soundtracks’s ‘Exhibit F’ – and it really just stays at that same level throughout. Those three set a precarious tone to the album, one that feels like they’re reflecting back our sundry concerns – a bit of paranoia; a skewed sense of purpose; a nagging feeling that things don’t feel quite real.
And so it progresses, through Simpl_Machines’s hypnotic ‘The Worst In Me’, which sounds like an alternative take on a key cue from the original Teen Wolf; the ceasless mechanistic strut of Bit Cloudy’s ‘Secret Genes’; das fax mattinger’s noisy ‘Sommerhit’; Isobel Ccircle~’s textural ‘Devour Isolation’; Synthetic Villain’s dreamy ‘Rhythm & Weep (Remix)’, which sounds like electronica nodding in the direction of dreamy easy listening; The Kendal Mintcake’s scattergun electro beats and icicle-sharp – almost Christmas-y – melodies on ‘∞%y’; the pulsing nod in the direction of minimal techno on Quartersized’s ‘Limiting’; Laica’s dramatic, submerged atmospherics on the standout ‘(Kakinuma) Traces Of The Soul’.
As with the previous volumes, it’s the straying away from the electronic template that reinforces Watson’s curatorial even-handedness. Petrine Cross’s doomy ‘Absorbed In An Artificial Night’ is a heavily-distorted metal cut that sounds like an outtake from Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, that was rejected from Trent’s gloomy masterpiece for not being optimistic enough. Sam Underwood and Graham Dunning’s Mammoth Beat Organ (Google it right now!) deliver the acoustic ‘Mast’, which sounds like an afterhours visit to Brian Cant’s shop on Bric-A-Brac.
The album concludes with the folksy acapella ‘Lo-Fi Symphony For Portslade-by-Sea’ by Dominic Bradnum, a mournful, yet optimistic piece of vocal sentimentality that sounds like a fishermen’s chorus singing Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’. It’s this savagely beautiful piece that I’ll be listening to for comfort as I once more mourn the loss of one of my favourite labels.
Isolation & Rejection Volume 5 is released October 30 2020 by Front & Follow. RIP. Again.
Immy is London-born, Falmouth-based singer-songwriter Imogen Leach. ‘In The Morning’ is her debut single, showcasing a lightness of touch and a haunting vocal intonation that prompts comparison with the work of First Aid Kit. Ostensibly a frustrated paean to the transiency and impermanence of one-night stands, ‘In The Morning’ concludes with a firmness and resolution, even as Imogen delivers the song with a quietly stirring grace and subtlety. Expect great things. Released September 28 2020.
Spacelab – Kaleidomission (Wormhole World / HREA’M)
A joint release by the ever-dependable Wormhole World and HREA’M labels for Spacelab, a mysterious electronic project with absolutely no biographical backstory. Containing 36 short tracks, Kaleidomission is an exercise in plunderphonic dexterity, taking in freaky little segments of speech or birdsong culled from the ether, wonky loops of jazz drumming and ambient texture like ‘We Love Can’ and ‘Astral Dynamics’ that sound like they’re being broadcast from a broken AM transmitter in the overgrown grounds of Aleister Crowley’s house. The title of the standout skewed electronica of ‘Fucked Casio Melody’ requires no further explanation. Released October 16 2020.
Lagoss is a collaboration between Discrepant label head Gonçalo F. Cardoso and Tenerife-based electronica duo Tupperware. The 37 short tracks on Imaginary Island Music, Vol. 1 are like listening to Les Baxter or Martin Denny at a post-apocalyptic exotica club on a broken soundsystem. Swooning tropical lushness abounds here, but it’s skewed to the point of nauseating discordancy as vibraphones wobble and shimmer into dissonant sprawls and hip-hop / electro beats lurch awkwardly. If you listen closely to tracks like ‘Chipude’, you can hear the sound of waves lapping around a wrecked beach bar run by an old stoner dude in a Hawaiian shirt mixing Mai Tais for thirsty ghosts. Released October 9 2020.
For his first electronic album under his own name, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante (aka Trickfinger) delivers an energetic tribute to two vastly different things: his recently-departed feline companion Maya, present with him in the studio since RHCP’s Stadium Arcadium, and his hitherto unknown love of jungle and drum ‘n’ bass. A time machine back to the period 1991 – 1996, tracks like ‘Brand E’ and ‘Amethyblowl’ fizz with turbulent breakbeat edginess, while his instantly-recognisable awareness of melody offsets that rhythmic freneticism and intensity with stirring ambient colour. Released October 23 2020.
Volutes is the debut album by French duo Christine Ott and Mathieu Gabry. With a title referring to the spiralling patterns evident in both architecture and nature, Volutes is a breathtaking masterpiece full of gentle, emotive twists. With a palette of sounds including piano, electronics and the expressive violin of Anne Irène-Kempf, moments such as ‘Trapezian Fields’ are freighted with an unpredictable, austere, haunted quality full of intricate detail. Ott’s work with Yann Tiersen can be heard in the mesmerising Ondes Martenot-led ‘Ultraviolet’, wherein layers of the instrument’s characteristic reedy alien sounds are encircled by Irène-Kempf’s savagely heart-wrenching violin as it plunges into minor key despair. Un album d’une beauté poignante. Released October 16 2020.
Fragments is the debut album from LA’s Body/Negative, the pseudonym of nonbinary multi-instrumentalist and producer Andy Schiaffino, and follows their Epoche EP from 2019. Beginning with an instrumental cover of Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ that sounds like it’s being heard through the gauzy vestiges of sleep, Schiaffino has produced an ambient album full of unique personality and highly personal, almost diaristic reference points. Here you can just make out their classical musical roots poking through on pieces like ‘Catholic Guilt’, but they are presented like elusive memories appearing out of the haze of long-buried emotions, making the fifteen minutes of Fragments one of the most haunting and transcendent albums I’ve ever heard. Released October 23 2020.
Paradise Cinema is a trio consisting of Portico Quartet multi-instrumentalist Jack Wyllie with percussionists Khadim Mbaye and Tons Sambe. Recorded while Wylie was on location in Dakar, Senegal, his vision for the album was prompted by the ceaseless rhythms he’d hear through the night and the faded aspirations and historical grandeur of the city. The timbres on pieces like ‘Liberté’ are immediately recognisable from Wylie’s day job with Portico Quartet, all shimmering ambience and considered, absorbing electronics, but it is their fusion with the Mbaye and Sambe’s percussive backbone that focusses the attention. ‘It Will Be Summer Soon’ is a restless, urgent highlight, sounding like rush-hour traffic on a hopeful Senegalese morning. Released October 9 2020.
Espen Eriksen Trio – End Of Summer (Rune Grammofon)
Seven tracks of piano jazz from the versatile fingertips of Espen Eriksen, recorded in Oslo during lockdown after the trio of Eriksen, double bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye saw all of their shows cancel in quick succession. Released as the strangest of summers drew to a close and the dork Norwegian autumn commenced, pieces like ‘Transparent Darkness’ carry a ruminative, reflective quality in their melodic structures, while the Latin rhythms of the album’s title track carries a sense of quietly chilled optimism. There is also a sense of catharsis and energy in the pieces here, borne from the trio finally getting back together in the studio for a vibrant, socially-distanced session. Released September 25 2020.
Sleep Through The Storm is the fifth album from James Vella’s A Lily. Beginning in 2006 with wake:sleep and continuing over the past fourteen years, Vella’s music under the A Lily name has been one of utmost flexibility, shifting his stylistic impulses refreshingly from drones to electronic pop with each release, without worrying about any sort of back catalogue compatibility issues.
His latest album finds Vella in a deeply contemplative frame of mind as he reflects on the parlous state of the world we call home in 2020. Outwardly simple yet richly complex beneath the surface, these eight pieces are the electronic equivalent of putting on a brave face when, inside, you are trying to manage the swirling emotions and myriad anxieties that seem to have existed in our daily realities for the past twenty years or more.
Opener ‘Endless Jasmine’ is presented as cluster of rapidly coruscating tones. Their presentation vividly recalls listening to peeling bells celebrating some joyous occasion, but instead they feel claustrophobic, relentlessly devoid of any sort of release. The deceptively beatific ‘A Softly Glitching Reality’ evokes the melodies of Vella’s work for piano, with subtly abrasive dissonance and slow filters giving the piece an uncertain, indecisive, troubled timbre.
The album’s centrepiece, the almost title track ‘Slept Through The Storm’ poses the question we’d all like to ask ourselves: what if this was all just a dream? What if that daily creeping dread and relentless non-specific unease and all the multitudes of hellish headlines we are confronted with were all just figments of our imagination? The track exists with a cautious optimism, spirals of wispy melodic cycles floating upwards, encircled by criss-crossing textural motifs.
‘Slept Through The Storm’ sets the tone for the remainder of the album, which proceeds with a gracefulness (if you’re feeling optimistic) or a sense of resignation (if you’re not). The album concludes with the slowly-evolving countermelody of ‘Slipped At The Edge Of The Pool’, a haunting, reflective, sweetly-fluctuating refrain that stays with you long after the album has ebbed away into a heavy, bereft silence.
Sleep Through The Storm by A Lily is released October 16 2020 by Bytes.
“In late 2004, after years of intense math calculations, four men determined the world wasn’t weird enough and decided to encase themselves in spray-painted fibreglass. They picked up some musical instruments, wrote a few songs and took to the road in an effort to generate a maniacal cyclone of fun and jubilation amid the cold thundering machine of life.” – The Killer Robots! biography.
I’m not sure how I never heard about The Killer Robots!, a ‘theatrical rock band’ from Orlando, FL where the band members wear huge robot costumes. They seem like a lot of irreverent fun, though I think you have to be a huge nerd to fully appreciate them; or maybe, given their predilection for on-stage pyrotechnics and tongue-in-cheek sci-fi-isms, you just need to be a fan of Muse.
Too big a concept to concentrate solely on music, The Robots seemed predestined to find a route into film. In 2016, they released their second movie (the first was called The Killer Robots And The Battle For The Cosmic Potato – yes, you did read that correctly). Co-opting the name from one of my favourite robot flicks from my youth, Crash & Burn was a B-movie-style adventure that followed the Robots as they tried to eliminate various nefarious villains in increasingly goofy chapters that was more like watching someone successfully playing a computer game than a traditional movie. The movie was started in 2010 and delivered on an amazingly small budget. The result was both deftly humorous but also, in its own inimitable way, a faithful tribute of sorts to the earliest sci-fi movies.
Killer Robots’ bassist founder Sam Gaffin, who put most of the film together single-handedly over five years, wrote a brilliant electronic score for the film that has now finally been made available through Bandcamp.
Containing 27 mostly short cues, Gaffin’s music is luridly vivid, with pieces like ‘Fury Of The Robots’ and ‘Prepping For Battle’ consisting of big orchestral melodies reminiscent of Eastern European military parade-ground demonstrations, mixed in with some tasty Neubauten-esque metal bashing. Befitting the rapid scene changes of the movies, most of these cues deliver a lot of intense action in a short space of time, their ideas being allowed to reach prominence before concluding rapidly. ‘Trog Goes Clubbing’ is a brilliant slice of futuristic techno, while ‘Max Talks Smack’ is determined electropunk, fusing rolling post-punk drums and a central electronic bassline that acts as the missing link between oompah music and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft.
The concluding piece here, ‘Surfing On Space Junk’ sends the album out on a bang. Beginning with some eerie, theremin-esque wailing, the track suddenly opens out into a euphoric sequence of fizzy melodies and hi-NRG hooks that feels like you’re careering wildly through space, only just on the edge of control.
The Killer Robots! Crash & Burn OST by The Killer Robots! was released October 9 2020.
In 2019, to my immense disappointment, the Front & Follow label decided to shut up shop. It looked like either a temporary cessation of activities or a complete end of a 12-year run that had seen the Manchester-based imprint issue an incredible run of adventurous sonic material from a diverse set of artists.
Fortunately, 2020’s lockdown presented the ideal opportunity to bring the label back, specifically for the Isolation And Rejection series of artist compilations. From the off, the premise was simple – Justin Watson, who runs the label, put out an open call for artists to send in tracks that had been rejected by other compilers. Isolation And Rejection became something of a home for the unwanted, overlooked and unloved. All proceeds from the sales of the digital albums go to The Brick in Wigan, a charity focussed, like Isolation And Rejection, on the homeless.
In keeping with the previous three editions of the series, the tracks presented on the penultimate instalment are far from mere
offcuts or poor quality knock-offs. Volume 4 collects together twenty-four tracks from established, well-known artists like Kepier Widow, Howlround, Rupert Lally and Pulselovers – none of whom, frankly, should ever find their music on a compiler’s cutting room floor. These artists nestle evenly alongside material from less well-known individuals, creating a sense of even-handedness that is a credit to Watson and his label. That he selected an acoustic guitar strumfest – MJ Hibbett’s ‘Rocking Out But Quietly’ – as the album’s centrepiece is downright audacious amid the anxious, squalling, buzzing, droning and quietly ethereal electronics elsewhere, but then again Front & Follow were always defiantly atypical in their release schedules.
So here you get the woozy, hypnotic structures of Stellarays’ ‘Butterfly Control Tower’, all delicate melodies and an electro-shoegazery disposition; the nod in the direction of Cabaret Voltaire on Function Automat’s resolute ‘Data Data’; Earthborn Vision’s haunting, edgy electro pulses on ‘Effects Of Isolation’; Graham Reznick’s processed cello and choral vocal textures melding with stirring electronics on the beautiful ‘The Visit’; Kepier Widow’s brooding ‘Perfect Latency’. Elsewhere, Rupert Lally immerses himself in the same ambient sonic foreshore that inspired his Marine Life album with the pastoral ’It Learns From Its Mistakes’ and Lammergeiers delivers a psychedelic stew of amorphous, shapeshifting processed blues guitar riffs and grainy textures set to motorik rhythms on ‘Ephemeris’.
My personal favourite here comes from Joe Evans’ Runningonair. His ‘Cocktail Hour’ is a breezy slice of gentle exotica, all tranquil beats, discrete acid squelches, blurry shapes, vibes and jazzy piano, just perfect for mixing a Mai-Tai or three in the comfort of the Tiki bar you fashioned up because you had nothing else to do in lockdown. Cheers.
Isolation & Rejection Volume 4 is released September 25 2020 by Front & Follow.
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, for a significant proportion of lockdown I found myself drawn to the sea. Initially this was a strange feeling: in my mind’s eye I imagined the tranquillity of sunsets over rippling waves, the coolness of ocean spray and the scent of water in constant motion, but I was also reminded of how stressful I would find trips to the beach as a child – the embarrassment of changing into and out of swimming shorts under a towel, the uncomfortable feeling of sand between my toes and a sense of intense boredom that manifested itself, conservatively, seventeen minutes into a day by the sea. Nevertheless, the idea of the sea won out, and as soon as lockdown eased slightly, I took myself to the Cornish coast, to where I now find myself temporarily relocated.
Swiss-based electronic artist Rupert Lally’s latest album, Marine Life, also concerns itself with the sea, perhaps representing an emotive, wistful nod in the direction of his childhood growing up in Brighton. Across six deeply ambient pieces, Lally evokes both the calm quietude and intense volatility of the water. Taking together processed, degraded samples of orchestras and overlaying those with choral samples and plaintive synth accents, Lally has assembled a suite of sounds that drift gently between the acoustic and the electronic.
Pieces like ‘Deceptively Calm’ or ‘Shimmering Waves’ have a muted drama, an evolving pattern of beatific drones and constant cycles of minor crescendos smothered in a sort of hypnotic, though-provoking serenity. Like the ocean, what appears still on the surface might hide a restless, dangerous turbulence that prevails beneath; Lally’s work on Marine Life is sensitive to both, simultaneously carrying a reflectiveness but also a respect for the water and its latent, unpredictable power, best exemplified by a sequence of fluctuating discordancies on the title track.
A sense of danger floats to the choppy surface on ‘High Speed Crossing’ and the submerged pulse of ‘Diving Bell’, the former progressing on a submerged motorik rhythm that sounds like the close-up recording of a boat engine, and the latter on an unswerving sweeping sound reminiscent of sonar. These two pieces seem to symbolise, for me, mankind’s fragile relationship with the water and its untameable nature. I also found myself pondering how our continual disrespect for the natural order of the oceans have jeopardised the delicate ecosystem that it represents, feeling anxious about what overfishing, oil spills, engine emissions and plastic waste have done to those who call it home.
I found myself listening to Marine Life with the sound of seagulls chattering outside the Velux windows in the space I have commandeered for writing and reflection while I find myself here in Cornwall. It was a moment of natural, unexpected symbiosis that felt like it was completely in tune with the powerfully introspective yet elegiac tonalities of Lally’s latest work.
Marine Life by Rupert Lally is released September 21 2020 by Glass Reservoir in a limited edition of 50 CDs.