Twenty-five years after their debut, Code – a Kent quartet of Andrew Phillips, Darren Till, David Mitchell and Graham Cupples – have released the follow-up to 1995’s The Architect.
The Architect was a deservedly celebrated album, dropping in at a time when crossover techno and dance music was perhaps at its most interesting, gaining significant audiences tired of Brit-pop. Code’s music had the sampleadelic diversity of The Chemical Brothers, the progressive house rhythms of Leftfield and Spooky and the rabbit punch to the temples embodied by the likes of Empirion.
And then… nothing. Eschewing the Code name in 1996, the quartet released the album Deco under the name Mortal (pseudonyms were a big thing in the genre-precious mid-1990s), but nothing followed. The title Ghost Ship is thus appropriately named: inspired by the real-life ghost ship, the MV Alta, that ran aground on the coast of Ireland in February of this year after disappearing out in the Atlantic near Bermuda and floating crewlessly for 18 months, the title is an allegory for a group that also just seemed to vanish.
The material on Ghost Ship was largely pieced together from hard drives containing material recorded just after the release of The Architect. Consequently, some of the tracks here have a certain period nostalgia to them – squelchy synths that burble and rise to the surface with ambient panache, glitch-free rhythms, Gregorian chants and the sort of blunt energy that existed before minimalism discarded all of the unnecessary accoutrements of dance music and instead channelled its essential, nagging pulse.
‘Breathe Slow’ has a sort of trippy fog, featuring samples of wobbly French dialogue, a sort of sub-aquatic dub-techno dynamism, and a reassuring vocal that is echoed in the hypnotherapy samples in the slow-motion, jazzy funk of ‘Listen To Me’ that follows. These tropes are familiar if, like me, you spent your time absorbing yourself in so many of the dance acts that emerged in the 1990s. Listening to Ghost Ship is like being aboard a boat back through your own history; listening to this lost gem is like being transported in time to how I felt as my ears were being opened up to dance music most fully, the decisions I made while flicking through racks and racks of otherwise faceless white labels and the friends I formed around the music I decided was mine.
One of the highlights here is ‘The Building’, a bristling, urgent vocal techno banger nodding in the direction of Underworld at their most commercial. ‘The Building’ broods with both a lysergic energy and a detached, almost quotidian trawl through daily movements inside a structure whose plans were sketched by ‘The Architect’. The other standout track is ‘Midnight’, whose wiry synths and plaintive vocals prompt a sort of trepidatious euphoria.
Ghost Ship is the album that never was, and the album that now is; a record from a band that vanished without a trace for two and a half decades but who have now run aground on our sonic foreshore with a cargo full of ideas fully intact.
Ghost Ship by Code was released November 6 2020 by Lo-Tek Audio Ltd.
Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Gary at Red Sand.
(c) 2020 Further.