The Fantastic Plastics – Malfunction

Recorded over a period of two years at their brilliantly-monikered CoCo Beat Studios in Brooklyn, Malfunction is the follow-up to The Fantastic Plastics’ 2015 debut album, Devolver. As with that first record, the order of events here is hyperactive tracks threaded with spiky guitar riffs, buzzing synths and chunky drums that offer up a futuristic vision of pop drawing a line back to the most effervescent and innovative moments of electrically-infused post-punk.

From the energetic forward motion and symbolism of ‘Numan’ (with its general nod in the direction of the erstwhile Gary Webb and possibly Wayne Knight’s annoying character in Seinfeld) to the insistent high-speed glam-punk of opening track ‘Disintegration’, Malfunction is (mostly) an upbeat record. The harmonic interplay between the band’s Tyson Plastic and Miranda Plastic has a gleeful charm, even if their outwardly euphoric tracks appear to mask a general cynicism at the state of the world today. The effect, on the sinewy, Cars-y ‘Telephone’ or the feisty political grandstanding of ‘Disconnect’ – a thinly-veiled bash at a certain high profile abusing the freedom of social media – is slightly disorienting: here you are, pogo-ing around like a complete lunatic, and then when you start to focus in on the lyrics, you realise you’re actually hearing a cheerful protest song.

The frantic pace drops just twice, once on the charming space-age instrumental vintage synth interlude ‘Neon Satellite’ and again – briefly – with the jangly guitar intro to the otherwise perky ‘Bad Day’. The latter has a brilliant, cutesy quality that wouldn’t go amiss on a kids’ TV show, even if its theme – about either being chronically hungover or clinically depressed – sit slightly uncomfortably with the joyous ‘la-la-la’ing and generally upbeat mood of Miranda’s delivery.

The standout track here, ‘Evacuate’, finds Tyson doing a brilliant impersonation of Phil Oakey’s leaden delivery, its lyrics and insistent guitar riffery urging us to get the hell out of dodge before the world ends. That it ends suddenly with a brief, dissonant electronic tone suggests we didn’t quite make it, but if this album was the last thing you heard before the world ended, frankly it doesn’t seem like the worst way to go.

Malfunction by The Fantastic Plastics was released October 4.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Circuit3 – The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything

“My debut album sold out, so I spent all the money on more synths,” says Dublin’s Peter Fitzpatrick, who trades under the name Circuit3.

His third album, the sagely-titled The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything follows a 2017 collection of Yazoo covers and vocal contributions to Jonteknik’s intensely-personal Alternative Arrangements LP from last year. Both projects were reverential, in similar ways: they both looked back wistfully on songs that were important to their creators, songs that inspired their own individual musical journeys and fervent experiments with electronic music technology.

A prevailing sense of nostalgia for the best-preserved vintages of 1980s synthpop can be felt throughout Fitzpatrick’s latest record. This isn’t remotely intended as an insult. In Fitzpatrick’s hands, the signature sounds, drum machine rhythms and lyrical stylings of that era are handled with exceptional care, with the fragile mystique of a track like ‘Face In The Crowd’ sounding like a newly-discovered tape of a Reset Records session left in a dusty corner of Vince Clarke’s Splendid studio space.

Throughout the record there is a deep connection to the vibrancy and forward-looking – yet alien-sounding – optimism that came with that period of electronic pop music: that sense of punk rock (and its post-punk reconfiguration) sounding as dated and irrelevant as the hairy prog music that punk spat at so vehemently. Partly this is down to the palette of period synths that Fitzpatrick uses, and partly it’s a consequence of his vocal style. On tracks like the standout ‘Electric’ or ‘The Rain’, you hear a questing, unresolved quality in that voice, a sort of searching and uncertainty that offsets the shimmering melodies and arpeggios that characterise the ten tracks here. The effect is gently disorientating, being neither fully happy on the most upbeat of tracks or fully maudlin on the most saddening of ballads.

Perhaps the most surprising moment here comes with the cynicism and anguish of closing track ‘For Your Own Good’, a sparse, infectious, chunky little gem of a pop song which jerks back and forth along a pleasantly unpredictable, carefully randomised pathway. As I always suspected, The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything tells me that the future I wanted is hiding squarely in the past.

The Price Of Nothing & The Value Of Everything by Circuit3 was released October 1 2019 by Diode Records.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Twenty-Three Hanging Trees – Cat’s Cradle

Another week, another immediately sold-out cassette on Stuart McLean’s eclectic Bibliotapes. This time around the subject is Kurt Vonnegut’s allegorical Cat’s Cradle (1963), and the artist offering up a soundtrack is Twenty-Three Hanging Trees, the alias of UK-based French electronic musician Xavier Watkins.

For a book so intertwined with dramatically apocalyptic sentiment, Watkins’ accompaniment is surprisingly and remarkably ephemeral. Fuzzy melodies and gauzy atmospheres dominate the eleven tracks, creating a sort of detached, observational response to Vonnegut’s dark humour. The album’s most dramatic moments come on ‘As It Happened’, finding Watkins creating a soundfield of crackling static approximating the terminal solidifying of the world’s oceans thanks to the escape of the ‘ice nine’ chemical on the island shores of San Lorenzo; the piece is full of a nauseating, unstoppable terminal motion, reaching a crescendo as gentle liquified ripples are replaced by a horrifying stillness.

Elsewhere, ‘The Illustrious Hoenikkers’ finds layers and cycles of vintage, fluttering synthesizer passages, full of mystery and retro-futuristic promise; its gentle phasing and questing arpeggios recall the earliest electronic albums, only offset by a brooding sense of things being far from optimistic. The languid guitar-like textures and delicate melodic washes of ‘I See The Hook’ are arguably among the most surprising moments here given that their serene tonalities are paired to the San Lorenzo ruler’s favoured form of execution and dictatorial enforcement.

Cat’s Cradle by Twenty-Three Hanging Trees was released by Bibliotapes on September 27 2019 and is now sold out. A digital version is available at Bandcamp.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

MONOCREO Label Night: Alessandro Cau / ELS / Jonny Hill

Eclectic Milton Keynes label MONOCREO’s label night at the town’s gallery performance space was timed to coincide with the release of Sardinian percussionist Alessandro Cau’s intricate and complex Brenti.

The product of over ten hours of playing, Brenti (‘stomach’ in Sardinian) found Cau working his way methodically around his drum kit, deploying metal bowls, fabric and other objects to skew and alter its sound, accompanied by occasional moments of modular synth from Miles Cooper Seaton and trombone from Federico Fenu. The result is four pieces ranging from quiet and meditative calm to skittish, manic playing, creating a thought-provoking rumination on Cau’s roots nevertheless filled with a sense of perpetual, unpredictable motion.

Accompanied sensitively by MONOCREO co-founder Jonny Hill on processed saxophone and clarinet, watching Cau assemble and dissemble his percussive palette while playing is utterly mesmerising, maintaining a sense of direction and purpose where other improvising percussionists might resort to aimless meandering. The dexterity and awareness of his sound sources is reflected in varied playing running from quiet, melodic passages full of sonorous harmonics to moments of thrilling, yet nuanced noise. At one point he pounds his cymbals into a sheer wall of beautiful metallic noise, occupying a sonic hinterland between an amplified rainstorm, a shrieking Jubilee Line train in the tunnel between Canary Wharf and Canada Water and the end of days. A final, emotive melodic refrain played gently on a collection of different-sized bowls stays with you long after its final echoes have faded into silence.

Elsewhere, Jonny Hill delivered an all-too-brief set of tender clarinet melodies that were slowly and progressively buried under a wall of gently-sculpted noise, full of everything from chiming tonalities, fluctuating distortion and clashing electrifying dissonance. During its most serene and strangely stirring moments, Hill’s set recalls the soundscape works of Robert Fripp: namely a richness of sound that is occasionally soothing and frequently confrontational, but always completely enveloping, finally fading out into a sequence of genteel, unadorned clarinet notes.

One half of sibling electronics duo Circuit Breaker, Edward Simpson’s solo performance as ELS opened with layered, ghostly voices and proceeded to evolve into an endlessly restless sequence of gestures that nodded squarely in the direction of vintage industrial music and the most devastating of dub rhythms. Though of an entirely different discipline, Simpson’s never-repeating rhythms and motifs echoed those of Alessandro Cau, even if the presentation was a nausea-inducing, nightmarishly-paced techno rather than an acoustic drum workout. Toward the end of Simpson’s set, you hear a brief snatch of vintage 303 vibrancy, ushering in a passage of Berghain-speed insistence that is ultimately overtaken by metallic-sounding arpeggios and a brilliant, threatening, prowling danger.

Brenti by Alessandro Cau was released September 20 2019 by MONOCREO. Find MONOCREO releases at Bandcamp.

Words and bad photography: Mat Smith

With sincere thanks to Simon.

(c) 2019 Further.

Pétra – Aunis

Pétra is a collaboration between dancer, musician and former NYC gallery owner Chantal Chadwick and LA electronic musician Brian Allen Simon, better known by his alias Anenon. The vast majority of Aunis was created on the Greek island of Nisyros after Chadwick and Simon were invited to participate in an artist residency, its thirteen beatific moments acting as a response to the unspolit rocky environs they found themselves among juxtaposed with the curious built environment photography of Daniel Boudinet.

The album operates at a significant distance from Simon’s long-standing Anenon project. While both Petrol (2016) and Tongue (2018) – like Aunis – found Simon creating musical responses to a specific place (LA and Tuscany respectively), both of those albums found Simon complementing field recordings with expressive soprano sax and a consummate modern classical compositional dexterity. Placed in Nisyros with Chadwick, the music they have created together is structured principally around a more pronounced electronic palette of sounds, each piece taking the form of a soundscape evoking, in some way, the landscape of the island. Simon’s saxophone appears briefly on the meditative ‘Aire’ and as the coda on ‘Tavel’, but for the most part his horn rarely comes out of its case.

Like Boudinet’s pictures, these pieces are presented with a directness and a flat, almost emotionless observational quality. A piece like ‘Lave’ has an inner warmth, its soft pads, bassy undercurrent and occasional flutters of synth arpeggios as gently evocative as a Boudinet Polaroid of the sun rising over a crumbling Parisian palace balustrade. Other tracks feature the gentle lapping of waves against the shore, creating a serenity and mournfulness thanks to the unresolved textures that surround the field recording, while pieces like ‘Tavel’ or ‘Hydra’ are more consciously melodic, their chiming synths carrying a roughened, imperfect quality bordered by atmospheric white noise.

On these pieces, it is as if Chadwick and Simon are drawing attention to the essential chaos and unpredictability that characterises all of nature, despite our best endeavours to apply a sense of order to that which we cannot control. That their collaboration can be so expressly in tune with nature while never once sounding like ambient new age meandering is a wonder to behold.

Aunis by Pétra was released September 20 2019 by Injazero.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further

3 Questions: Brook

Brook. Photograph by Lianne Burnham.

Brook is an electronic duo of Beth Brooks and Howard Rider. Two years in the making, the intimate songs on their debut album Built You For Thought bring together Beth’s schooling in blues and soul performance with Howard’s carefully-restrained synth arrangements.

With highly personal, carefully-shrouded lyrics that feel like we are reading Beth’s most private concerns, and Howard’s skill in crafting subtly dramatic accompaniments, Brook’s music is delicately poised between the futuristic and the human.

Built You For Thought is out now on Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords. Read David Best from Fujiya & Miyagi’s review of the album here.

What is your earliest memory?

Beth Brooks: Hiding under the bath from my two elder sisters at about four. I had made a den under there. I had to hide from them a lot as a youngster.

Howard Rider: Glancing down the street at four years old when moving in to a new family home, and seeing someone of a similar age who would then become one of my closest friends for life. I can still see him now!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

BB: Don’t always listen to advice!

HR: Live now.

Where are you most productive or inspired?

BB: When I’m alone.

HR: When there’s a strong element to work with, or something that excites me, whether that’s a thought, an emotion or a sample. The most important thing, though, is a strong vocal.

Built You For Thought by Brook is released by VeryRecords on September 20 2019.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.

Aki Onda + Paul Clipson – Make Visible The Ghosts

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“It’s not about the sound and image resolving. It’s about the ambiguity between them and suddenly this feeling of coalescence, then also disparity and dissonance.” – Paul Clipson (1965 – 2018)

For the best part of nine years until his untimely death at the start of 2018, filmmaker Paul Clipson and experimental audio artist Aki Onda were friends and like-minded collaborators, both sharing similar and complementary sensibilities and interests despite working in arguably distinct disciplines.

Make Visible The Ghosts was originally conceived for a date at Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room. The premise that the pair came up with was a collaboration without collaboration: each would prepare a seventy-minute piece in isolation without revealing to the other what they were doing, which the pair would then perform simultaneously in February 2013.

In Onda’s case, his intended accompaniment to Clipson’s film left ample room for improvisatory, in-the-moment responses. He talks about hearing the whirring motion of the reels as something that needed to be brought into the sound-field he had crafted, quickly amplifying the sound during the performance with a microphone and giving that prominence in his audio collage; similarly, the progress and switches of Clipson’s images inspired him to add intra-channel radio static – that unpredictable, ghostly, between-frequency, unplaceable sound somewhere between the capture of spirit voices and out-of-control analogue synth spurts – across the length of his piece.

The version of Make Visible The Ghosts released by audioMER consists of four ten-minute tracks developed out of the material delivered at ISSUE and subsequently reworked over a period of three years, with stills from Clipson’s visuals presented as a regimented collage to form the LP sleeve. Perhaps out of reverence, or perhaps because it felt like it had become an integral part of the piece, Onda’s amplified reel recordings provide an occasional rhythm of sorts, and the freeform radio manipulations run throughout the four tracks like an improvised solo by a bandleader. Beneath those two chance-derived elements you hear the staples of Onda’s approach to field-recorded sound: traffic, conversation, atmospheres, all glued together by electronic tones, drones and processing that, while meticulously prepared, nevertheless feel spontaneous and brimming with energy. Though often contemplative, there are also moments of tension, such as the growling electronic interjections that dominate large sections of ‘Palm Held Out For Us To Read’.

Make Visible The Ghosts could not have existed, in this form, without Clipson. His death has left an indelible mark on Onda, and this album represents both a tribute to a friend and mentor, while also acting as a necessarily unique celebration of what is possible in the field of multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Make Visible The Ghosts by Aki Onda and Paul Clipson is released September 20 2019 by audioMER.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Further.