Various Artists – Isolation And Rejection Vol. 4

Various Artists - Isolation And Rejection 4

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. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further. 

Rupert Lally – Marine Life

Rupert Lally - Marine Life

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.

Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Grant Wilkinson.

(c) 2020 Further. 

Gareth Jones – ElectroGenetic

Gareth Jones - ElectroGenetic

Gareth Jones is no stranger to helping artists shape astounding music. Having produced and mixed acts such as Depeche Mode, Erasure, Einstürzende Neubauten, MGMT, Can, Neu!, and beyond, it is safe to say Gareth knows his way around the studio. It is one thing to assist artists in honing their craft, however, and another to create original work, especially in a void of individualism. 

With ElectroGenetic, his first solo release, Gareth has successfully managed to create a sonically-rich aural snapshot of his recent journey through loss. Although deeply personal, the emotions Gareth has managed to capture are immediately relatable as they are being told – not simply as one person’s reaction to the travails of life – but through the lens of an all-encompassing spiritualism. 

ElectroGenetic sounds as the title suggests: a perfect blend of deep, earthly ambience accented with rich cosmic synth work. The listening experience of the nine-track ElectroGenetic (a seamless and flowing 40 minutes of morphing sounds) is a continuous journey one hardly knows they are on – much like life. Buzzing insect-like sferics hover over fields of sound in ‘Goonhilly’, low-pass filtered rhythms fluctuate atop ethereal beds in ‘Farewell’, choral swaths emerge from the depths as synth arps punctuate the darkness in ‘Trinity’, and effected spoken words reinforce a spiritual element throughout.

Gareth intricately blends raw modular electronics with floating atmospheres and the result is remarkably gentle and expressively emotive. There is a distance in the sound like someone observing a storm from afar. One is reminded of the pastoral ambience of O Yuki Conjugate’s Undercurrents (Into Dark Water) or the dream-laced techno of Air Liquide’s The Increased Difficulty Of Concentration

With ElectroGenetic, Gareth presents a momentary journey through life – one fraught with sadness but never losing sight of a grand spiritual order to the perceived chaos. A journey immaculately reinterpreted through electronics, field recordings, poetry, and dreamcatchers. Gareth has made a deeply personal album based on a deeply personal journey but one that is relatable to all of us as it is presented by someone who is not only an expert in the field of sound manipulation but also cognisant of when it is best to abandon ego and let higher consciousness control the ebb and flow. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which inspired the final piece ‘Alone Together’, offers a touching summation of the album:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.” 

ElectroGenetic by Gareth Jones is released on September 18 2020 by Calm + Collect. Pre-save here: https://ffm.to/electrogenetic

Words: Bryan Michael. Bryan is one third of Alka. Alka’s new album, Regarding The Auguries, is released October 9 2020 by VeryRecords.

(c) 2020 Bryan Michael for Further.  

Tom Wheatley – Round Trip

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Tom Wheatley’s Round Trip is described as “an imaginary journey for double bass”.

For those who haven’t seen Wheatley performing, this potentially requires some explanation. For those who have, the journey through the limitless sonorities, textures and possibilities that he can manifest from his instrument will be all too familiar – scratches, hissing sounds, the sound of strings, scraped and subjected to intense pressure, noises that you cannot reconcile with an instrument that ordinarily seems to lend itself to ponderous, languid playing.

Wheatley is a master of using the whole instrument in his exploration of sound. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is sacred. Anything that can produce a sound is legitimate and accepted. I saw him perform once with such intensity that by the end the horsehair of his bow was detached, flailing, pathetic and thwarted; he had exploited the strings so close to the very limits of their elasticity that I thought they might snap; his performance was so physical and determined that if he had smashed the wood body against the gallery wall and played among the splinters it would have felt utterly logical.

You can imagine some of that technique being used to coax the myriad sounds that can be heard across Round Trip – frantic / frenetic; quiet / intricate; creaking / whining; droning / murky. At around the twenty-two minute mark, Wheatley creates a squall of bleats and stuttering sounds that feel like they must have been played on a sax, its performer bent double and pushing every last breath through the horn with wild abandon. I was not remotely surprised to be told that it was still Wheatley and his bass.

On Round Trip, he is accompanied by nothing more than location sounds. Birds tweet, chirp and trill melodically; pedestrians chatter; a lone dog barks; traffic can be heard far off in the distance; a delivery truck reverses nearby. Tune into that and you hear the cacophony of daily existence; a dramatic, disquieting, vibrant tapestry of ceaseless, beautiful noise. Heard in that context, Wheatley’s investigative playing here acts as an allegory for life’s quintessential, wonderful restlessness.

Round Trip by Tom Wheatley is released July 29 2020 by TAKUROKU. TAKUROKU is the download imprint of Café Oto in Dalston, London. Buy Round Trip at the TAKUROKU website here.

Related: Daniel Blumberg & Hebronix – Liv & Milton Keynes Gallery performance October 11 2018.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Shots: Hypnodial, Mutante, Couronne de Merde, Score, de tian, Todd Fletcher

Hypnodial - GTET

Hypnodial – Good Times End Times (Somniscope)

Seven tracks of dreamy and much needed ambient electronic music from prolific Palma-based composer Hypnodial (Ilia Rodríguez). Tracks such as the beatific, widescreen ‘Summerine’ are poised on the delicate axis between hopefulness and resignation that the album’s title plays with. Elsewhere,  the standout ‘Brokelyn’ and ‘Cloopseend’ have a rougher edge thanks to gently undulating, bassy drones upon which are stacked euphoric vocal textures and chiming, stirring melodic counterpoints. Music to focus troubled minds. Released May 28 2020.

https://hypnodial.bandcamp.com/album/good-times-end-times

Mutante - Mutante II

Mutante – Mutante II (Dreamlord Recordings)

A second outing for Mutante, a Worcester duo of Jonathan Parkes and Alec Wood. Mutante II explores the rich and enduring legacy of early 1980s soundtracks, its seven tracks each full of evocative synth sounds and a sense of creeping paranoia and dread. ‘A New Horizon’ and ‘Magnetron’ are among the highlights, both moving ominously forward on a bed of prowling, heavy bass sequences and submerged rhythms offset by grainy sweeps and a topline suggesting imminent danger. Don’t have nightmares; or, if you must, make sure this is your soundtrack. Released June 8 2020.

https://mutantemusic.bandcamp.com/album/mutante-ii

Couronne de Merde

Couronne de Merde – ﺍﺗﻤﻨﻰ ﻟﻮ ﺍﻥ ﺍﻟﺮﻳﺎﺡ ﺗﺠﻠﻲ ﺍﻟﺮﻣﺎﺩ (Broken Britain Cassettes / wannamarchi.club)

The title of the new album from secretive Paris-based Couronne de Merde translates as “I wish the winds were ash.” Containing six tracks inspired by his frequent trips to Beirut, these pieces occupy a frontier land between emotive electronic music and the oppressive architecture of modern industrial music. Here you’ll find thunderous mechanical rhythms, subtle melodic interplay and drifting field recordings of life sounds recorded in Beirut but woven together back in Paris. ‘ﻻ ﻳﻮﺟﺪ ﻣﻮﺕ’ (‘There Is No Death’) is the album’s signature piece, a brooding, contemplative moment surrounded by sonic rubble and devastation, while ‘ﻗﻮﻯ ﺍﻟﻜﺘﺎﺋﺐ ﺍﻟﻨﻈﺎﻣﻴﺔ’ (‘A Strong Regiment’) snarls and inches relentlessly forward on menacing percussive tank tracks. Released June 5 2020.

https://wannamarchi.bandcamp.com/album/-

Score - Modern Wreck

Score – Modern Wreck (Cruel Nature Records)

Score is the solo project of d_rradio’s Chris Tate, and Modern Wreck is the follow-up to 2018’s Vent, released by Cruel Nature in a highly limited edition of just 40 cassettes. Many-layered and ushered in with sounds that have an organic, naturalistic earthiness to them, tracks like ‘Women And Children’ have a gracefulness and euphoric poise, full of jangly guitars and instrumentation of unknowable provenance. The playful ‘Crown Shoes’ is dominated by subtle electronics and a jazzy piano refrain, while ‘Inside Joke’ has a delightful wonkiness somewhere between nomadic glitch music and gentle folk. ‘Money Shot’ is the album’s pop highlight, wandering forth on a breezy warmth redolent of tropical island sunsets. Released June 5 2020.

https://cruelnaturerecordings.bandcamp.com/album/modern-wreck

de tian - Transcriptome

de tian – Transcriptome (Discus Music)

de tian is the longstanding partnership between Sheffield guitarist and electronic musician Paul Shaft and free music and Discus Music co-founder Martin Archer. The original version of de tian sprang up in the post-punk / pre-synth-pop hinterlands but when Shaft and Archer hooked up, their music evolved toward a more sonically diverse point. New album Transcriptome features nine tracks that find the duo working grooves out of industrial-style rhythms overlaid with Archer’s distinctive textural reeds and sax, with the addition of percussion from early de tian member Paul Hague. Key track ‘Transcriptome 4’ thuds with a wild, frantic pulse, wailing synth stabs and African percussion giving the track an air of only just being on the edge of self-control. Archer sweeps in with some especially evocative processed sax toward the end which cements the track’s beautiful chaos. Released May 7 2020.

https://discusmusic.bandcamp.com/album/transcriptome-93cd

Todd Fletcher - Rhythm Car

Todd Fletcher – Rhythm Car (Editions 100)

Eight tracks of mostly smooth, vaguely jazz-inflected electronica from Scottsdale, AZ-based ambient music stalwart Todd Fletcher. Each piece is characterised by sedate beats, gently washing pads, gorgeously understated synth work and heavily processed spoken word vocals mangled into melodic reference points. ‘Ice Angel’ stands out for his percussive melody and frosty sheen, while ‘Teleothenaion’ nods reverentially in the direction of Ken Ishii. The brilliant ‘China Radio Sunshine’ floats forth on an electro-dub pulse over which smart, fluid, jazz-inflected melody is allowed space to roam. Apparently Fletcher sold all his synths once upon a time and decided just to play the piano. Clearly, and for us very fortunately, he must have changed his mind. Released May 20 2020.

https://editions100.bandcamp.com/album/rhythm-car

Listen to tracks from these releases at Playmoss here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Sad Man – Daddy Biscuits

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In May 2020, Sad Man – the alias of Bournville’s Andrew Spackman – ran a Twitter poll to ask fans to suggest the name of his next album. The options were Sad Man 13, ISO-Nation, Wonky Heights and the winner, with a cool 50% of the vote – Daddy Biscuits. It arrived in my inbox, just three months after his last release, with the description that it was a ‘wonky banger’.

Spackman has done most of the legwork for me with that, to be honest, as those two words perfectly sum up the sound of the twelve songs on this new collection. These are pieces that jerk around like they’re being attacked with an electronic music cattle prod, all quirky beats, skewed melodies and sounds that feel like they’re splintering and fragmenting inside your ear canal.

The jazz influence that can be felt on other Sad Man releases is here suppressed ever so slightly, emerging in the background on pieces like ‘Fump’ or in the coda on the icicle-sharp ‘Illustration’; instead, the only way I can describe a track like the nine-minute title track, or ‘Wonder’, or the effervescent ‘So So’ is how I imagine it might sound in the nightclub of a ship that’s about to capsize in a storm. Or a ‘wonky banger’, I guess.

Buried deep here is the minuscule ‘Water’. It’s a track that seems to pack so many disparate ideas into its brief, sixty second existence, from muted house-style riffs, deep beats and a frantic jumble of melodies that sound like a stroll around a dimly-lit games arcade.

Daddy Biscuits by Sad Man is released June 5 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Greg Nieuwsma – Travel Log Radio

Greg Nieuwsma - Travel Log Radio

Travel Log Radio by US-born, Krakow-based sound artist and electronic musician Greg Nieuwsma arrives at a point where travel, either for work or pleasure, has become an almost entirely alien concept. Whereas there was a time before lockdown when you ignored planes in the sky because of their ubiquity, nowadays you see a pair of isolated vapour trails high above you and reflect on their rarity, as if we were transported back thirty years before skies were crowded and travel was commonplace ritual, not a privilege. Today, the only travel most people seem able to do involves switching their Zoom backgrounds for photos of somewhere far afield containing perfect vistas and idyllic, untroubled, virus-free sunsets.

Nieuwsma is part of Krakow’s vibrant music scene, primarily as a member of the band Sawak, and professes an interest in the ethnographical aspects of music. You can hear that creeping into the music he makes with Sawak, and it forms the exclusive concern of his new album, which consists of four pieces recorded in four specific locations – Italy, Morocco, India and the US – over the period 2015 to 2019.

These pieces are either constructed from straight, unaltered field recordings, or are subject to subtle processing and adornment. The effect is akin to sonic postcards, each one taking a dreamy, otherworldly resonance, like flicking through photos of trips and barely-remembered memories, made all the more poignant by the absence of specific location or temporal detail.

Even in the most joyous moments – snatches of choral singing in Italy, prayer calls or the bustling hubbub of a Moroccan souk – there is an inevitable poignancy here as you reflect on not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. There is also drama in these recordings – street sounds and radio broadcasts from India evoke the sensory overload that comes from finding yourself in an unfamiliar place; the interaction with an overzealous authority figure, or a series of hypnotic platform announcements in the US brings to mind the strange detachment and uncertainty that comes from jetlag; a recording of reverberating saxophone transports you to the serenity of a late night New York subway platform.

The sound of water features in several places. It is a strangely unifying, universal interjection, free of specific language or identifiable sonic provenance. It serves to remind you, in a way, that the borders we cannot presently cross are entirely abstract, artificial constructs that nature has no need to observe.

Travel Log Radio by Greg Nieuwsma is released June 5 2020 by TQN-aut.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Erland Cooper – Hether Blether

ErlandCooper_HetherBlether_artwork

At some point in May, a letter dropped through my letterbox with a handwritten envelope that stood apart from the endless clusters of bills that seem to be our only engagement with the UK postal service these days. Inside was a signed map of Orkney created by musician Erland Cooper containing walking routes and birdspotting locations. That delivery accompanied the imminent release of Hether Blether, the concluding instalment of Cooper’s trilogy of releases that celebrate the collection of islands where he grew up.

Where 2018’s Solan Goose eulogised the islands’ birdlife and 2019’s Sule Skerry the sea, Hether Blether turns its attention on the land. Sort of. The land in question is the mythological island of the album’s title, a folkloric, missing location that naturally does not appear on the map that Cooper sent me. What does appear on that map, however, are the likes of ‘Noup Head’, ‘Longhope’ and ‘Rousay’, all tracks on the new album, continuing the theme of the previous two albums wherein Cooper named pieces of music after specific locations.

Resplendent in lush, yet fragile string arrangements and choral texture, the tracks on Hether Blether are joyous, celebratory even, albeit in a self-reflective, muted fashion. The synth passages and field recordings that ran through Skule Skerry here take a backseat, emerging briefly on pieces like the stirring, slowly evolving ‘Skreevar’, one of the most beatific moments here. We once again eavesdrop on the local, distinctive Scottish / not Scottish accents on ‘Longhope’ and explore Orkney’s mythology through the strangely affecting poetry of John Burnside on ‘Noup Head’, each word in Kathryn Joseph’s narration containing a sort of gravity and poise that makes you yearn for the islandscape of Cooper’s youth.

Appropriately enough, it is Cooper’s own voice that we hear more prominently throughout Hether Blether, most notably on the album’s centrepiece, ‘Peedie Breeks’, where he is accompanied by poignantly seesawing strings, bells, and operatic vocals that drift in like an icy breeze. His is a lilting, tender voice, effortlessly tugging at your heartstrings as he delivers this song of innocence, playfulness and the unbridled, unshakeable optimism of youth.

Hether Blether by Erland Cooper is released May 29 2020 by Phases.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Various Artists – Latibula

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Latibula is Marionette’s first label compilation, offering a window into the eclectic artists who call the label home as well as providing a sneak preview of where the Toronto-based imprint might go next. All proceeds from the digital compilation will go to Médicins Sans Frontières.

Sans frontières is also an apt way of describing Marionette’s approach. The label was founded in 2013 and swiftly made a mark through releasing complex electronic music that was unafraid of borders, genre limitations or jaded notions of purism, with most releases given their own visual identity by label stalwart Benjamin Kilchhofer. The Basel-based electronic adventurer has released four distinctive solo and duo releases for the label over the past few years, each one characterised by his approach to fusing modular sound design with acoustic instruments. Kilchhofer’s ‘Kloen’ is one of the natural highlights of this collection, led by a synth sequence that feels more like a soprano saxophone line than something that might have emerged from a nest of writhing patch cables.

Elsewhere, musician and instrument builder Pierre Bastien follows up last year’s playful Tinkle, Twang ‘n Tootle with ‘4hands 1breath’. A collaboration with jazz drummer Steve Argüelles and pianist Benoît Delbecq, the piece includes Bastien’s pocket trumpet played through running water against a backdrop of abstract percussion and wandering piano. Another brilliant Marionette release from last year was Giraffe’s Desert Haze, which found the Hamburg trio tapping into German rock reference points from Can to Manuel Göttsching; the trio follow that up with the brilliant ‘Lines Across The Still’, a mellow exploration of wavering melodies, stuttering guitar and polyrhythmic percussion.

One of the most interesting pieces here is ‘Serpentina’ by another Basel-based musician, Marco Papiro. Papiro is a fan of vintage kit, as evidenced across the many albums he’s released to date, but he’s also a DJ, and that tends to mean his tracks are infused with a sense of motion and finely-controlled tension. The brief ‘Serpentina’ is perhaps the most outwardly electronic track here, rolling forth on springy sounds and simple chiming, expressive melodies that feel like they belong in a pivotal scene in an 80s teen movie.

Papiro’s piece slots in alongside other hidden gems from Twinkle3 (Richard Scott, David Ross and Clive Bell), MinaeMinae, Julian Sartorius, Soundwalk Collective and others, pointing to a vibrant future release schedule for Marionette.

Latibula is released by Marionette on May 1 2020 through Bandcamp. Find Marionette at Bandcamp here.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Audio Obscura – Self Isolation Tapes

Early on in the COVID-19 outbreak, Etsy took down a t-shirt design emblazoned with the words ‘I Survived Coronavirus’ on the grounds that it was poor taste amid the progress of the disease. We are only four months into this – whatever this will eventually become – and despite government plans to try and progress toward a return to normality, when I think of that t-shirt I’m reminded chiefly of Captain Darling’s line at the end of Blackadder Goes Forth: ‘We lived through it! The Great War, 1914 – 1917!’

So it may also be that releasing music made at this point in isolation, when we could well just be at the start of something that, unlike Blackadder, runs and runs and runs (I’m thinking The Archers, perhaps), may also prove to be similarly premature. Fortunately, amid the slew of self-indulgent self-isolation releases are some genuine gems, and of these is Norfolk-based Neil Stringfellow’s Audio Obscura release, Self Isolation Tapes.

Electronic musicians, as a rule, have never had a problem with self-isolation of course. Theirs is a life of relative solitude, and so it is often hard to see what’s different between music made before isolation, during, and how it might sound when things return to whatever normal we’ll face after this. In Stringfellow’s case, a precedent for the sounds here could be found on his June 2019 Bibliotapes-released imaginary score for George Orwell’s 1984. I’m not prone to self-quoting, but this is how I concluded that piece: ‘Something about the way that Stringfellow has crafted these pieces seems to simultaneously remind us of the unflinching horror of daily life … while also presenting a sense of resignation and dismay that this is the world we currently occupy.’ I’m not saying that this is prescience on my part; more that Stringfellow’s music already seemed to be perfectly suited to dystopia, and so it goes that these seventeen pieces (plus three remixes) are perfectly suited to the current bleak outlook.

Talking of bleakness, not for nothing does Stringfellow include a track nodding in the direction of another savage work of fiction (or is it, now, biographical?) – Albert Camus’s The Plague, a depiction of a highly infectious disease wreaking devastation on an Algerian port. ‘Life In Oran’ is an unsettling listen amid unsettling pieces, beginning with the sounds of Stringfellow’s children playing innocently, which he then frames with murky pulses, dread-ridden haunted tones and a general sense of urgency and insistence. Stringfellow’s children appear again on ‘Each Day The Radio…’, calling for his attention against a backdrop of the daily news stories charting the progress of COVID-19 on the radio. (As an aside, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like the daily governmental proclamations feel a bit like something from 1984.)

Fortunately, Self Isolation Tapes isn’t a wholly bleak listen – it just mostly is. For example, buried deep in the track ‘Ghosts, Dusk, Decay’ is a solitary, tentative, almost hopeful synth note which appears fleetingly, only for the track to return to more discordant territory by the end; elsewhere, ‘Quiet World’, one of the shorter tracks here, is a piece floating forth on a delicate, soothing ambience. The pair of tracks ‘The 33rd Of April’ and ‘The 44th Of May’ may be titled with sardonic humour, but are presented with brooding textures and muted beats that become sonic approximations of industrial, noxious soundscapes or the fading broadcasts of horror soundtracks heard across post-apocalyptic wastelands.

‘One Day I’ll Grow Nostalgic For These Days’ is one of the most memorable pieces here, containing wistful piano and scratchy little sounds, a little like static coming from an old radio transmission. Here you find little melodic lines that seem to belong elsewhere, stuttering vocal segments and pretty bird song, a sparse rhythm outlining the weird sense of nostalgia embedded in the piece’s title.

It is a collection that is necessarily dark, even in the context of Stringfellow’s work. But perhaps it’s worth returning to ‘Life In Oran’ to put this all in context. Alongside the more negative moments are the interjections of real life – washing up, maybe, along with other quotidian tasks. Initially these throw you off and confuse you, but between those sounds and Stringfellow’s kids playing, they serve to remind you that life does indeed go on, even in the strangest of circumstances. Long after this is over, these sounds will be our reminder of how we felt while COVID-19 took its toll on us, with Self Isolation Tapes a diaristic time capsule into collective self-isolation.

Self Isolation Tapes by Audio Obscura was released Friday April 24 2020.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.