Code – Ghost Ship

Twenty-five years after their debut, Code – a Kent quartet of Andrew PhillipsDarren TillDavid 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. 

Local Sound Developer – Damaged Textures

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. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further. 

In Conversation: Body/Negative

Andy Schiaffino by Nick Francher

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.  

Further. spoke to Schiaffino about the thoughts, feelings and inspirations that went into the creation of this beautiful micro-masterpiece of an album. 

Listening to classical music as a child definitely influenced the way that I write.  I primarily use sitting at my piano as my main source of inspiration – music always seems to come out of me easier on the piano if that makes sense. I grew up listening to a lot of classical composers and opera – things like Yanni and Andre Rieu – and groups like Thievery Corporation thanks to my oldest brother’s exceptionally good taste. I feel like all of those early sources informed the melodies that I create now and maybe even appears in my vocal style and often lack of lyrics. 

The making of Fragments began probably in the summer of 2019. I had a lot of demos I was fleshing out with Dylan Gardner of the psych project Communicant, who ended up co-producing half of the record. I didn’t really intend to make an LP at first, I was just working on ideas, but all of those tracks just sort of found their way into being on this album. I put it down around the early spring of this year when I was in a really depressed state which eventually led to a major break up in my life, and I couldn’t bear to listen to any of the songs until maybe June or so when we were deep in quarantine. 

I think I took a lot of inspiration not only from the electronic music, IDM and ambient music that I listen to, but also a whole lot of pop music. My co-producer has his roots in pop and produces a lot of pop artists. He showed me a lot of really, really awesome pop artists who have some pretty incredibly experimental production. I really tried to harness those textual elements that I found and put it in my music in a way that felt appropriate. Pop music really was a huge influence throughout the making of the first and second half of the record, in addition to things like shoegaze and dreampop. 

Inspiration, productivity and creative impulses are pretty sporadic for me. I can’t really just sit down and force myself to write something. I really envy the people that do have that ability! I can pretty much only write when I want to and when I have an idea; whether a melody pops into my head while I’m driving, or I hear something in a song that I want to replicate. My demos always have to have some kind of clear purpose behind why I’m sitting down to make it, otherwise I just kind of make garbage. 

A lot of my music is made while sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by gear and tangled cables. I don’t know why but that kind of weird chaotic space makes the most sense for me and helps me get all my ideas out. Pretty much all of the album was recorded in my home, aside from ‘Figure 8’, which was recorded in my co-producer Dylan’s studio and engineered entirely by him. The final track ‘The Big Sleep’ was a remote co-write with my friend Nick Ventura. He did about half of the things you hear on that track, and I believe recorded his parts in his own home. 

My co-producer Dylan used to always play Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ for me on his beautiful teachers’ model Wurlitzer piano which I am so envious of and want one of my own. He used to always play me that song before I had ever really dived deep into Elliott‘s catalogue – Dylan was already a massive superfan and eventually showed me all of my now-favourite Elliott tracks. Dylan played it so beautifully that I always just assumed that it was one of Dylan‘s original songs; I never knew it was a cover of something! I found that melody to be so beautiful and so strange, and eventually one day I woke up with such a strong urge to cover it and make it my own, so Dylan and I recorded our version of it in one night. 

I absolutely love Elliott Smith.  I was kind of a late fan even though I’ve been seeing murals of him everywhere ever since I moved to LA in 2017. I hope I don’t lose too many cool points for admitting that! His music has such a fragile quality to it, and it’s got this just really beautiful element to it which I think isn’t found in a lot of modern singer-songwriters’ catalogues. I think he was a really special person and I relate a lot to his story… In addition to that he’s just an incredible guitarist and undeniable melody magician and I think that he is totally underrated. 

The first half of Fragments was recorded in chronological order. I was feeling really down and there were a lot of tough things happening in my life. The second half of the record was kind of just reflecting on the idea of saving yourself, and helping yourself stay afloat. 

The very last track ‘The Big Sleep’ is a euphemism for suicide (and also a cheeky reference to David Lynch). My decision to make that the final track on the record was not only because it is sonically lighter than the first half of the record, but it’s also a song that’s about wondering what lies beyond life. I never really felt existential in that sort of way. Rather than fearing the endless unknown of the afterlife, I always welcomed death with open arms, and there’s been a lot of death in my life, so it always felt very normal for me strangely. 

That track was me grappling with the idea of, “What actually happens after I die?” for the first time in probably my entire life, so I thought it would be an excellent album closer, to leave things on a light note, right? I think the latter half of Fragments was both intentionally and unintentionally lighter, and definitely draws more from shoegaze and dreampop (mainly bands like Alcest, Slowdive, Hatchie, Tamaryn), much more so than the first half of the record. 

Fragments by Body/Negative was released October 23 2020 by Track Number Records. 

Interview: Mat Smith. With thanks to George. 

(c) 2020 Further. 

Goodparley – Delay Cycle: Becoming / Sedative Songs

Two new albums from Cardiff’s Oli Richards released over the past couple of months, each intently focussed on the dreamy qualities of drone and reverb. 

Delay Cycle: Becoming is described by Richards as using the power of delay to “mimic the feeling of the repeated and ongoing shedding of emotional skin in the cyclical process of becoming a person”. With that sentiment at its centre, the album is a transcendent, and occasionally turbulent, experience. Across five pieces for guitar and electronics, Richards rarely leaves any sound untreated – small loops of unidentifiable provenance rise up, hang around and collapse in on themselves as delay, and its long decaying half-lives warp their original sonic fabric. 

‘Just A Reflection’ is a case in point, a quiet – yet highly dramatic – rumination that feels like watching the unstoppable aging of a person through the lens of a timelapse camera, its clustered tones feeling like an accelerated heartbeat, even as they descend into a murky fog of shadowy, impenetrable noise. In contrast, the album’s opener, ‘If The Surface Is Fogged Up’, has a reflectiveness that bespeaks of fragile hope and optimism, its splintered guitar tones acting as beatific, shimmering, crystalline splinters. The album’s highlight might well be ‘As A Form Of Grace’, a many-layered exploration of guitar melody that has a lightness of touch, even as it is bathed in psychedelic fuzziness. 

Richards’ album for Wormhole World finds itself in similarly contemplative territory, containing a triptych of pieces intended to soothe restless minds, yet which are frequently punctured by unanticipated moments of feisty noise. These moments act like distractions, like the clustered, insistent to-do lists that can enter the otherwise still mind of even the most experienced meditation practitioner. 

Using a palette of electronics, processed guitar and submerged conversations, Sedative Songs is appropriately named. These pieces are like a warm, enveloping, and much-needed salve, which Richards insists should be best experienced in the dark. If anything, they are more complex than Delay: Reflection, nearing a many-layered almost modern classical state of depth. On pieces like the sixteen-minute opener, ‘Sedative In Spring’, you find yourself following sounds until they dissipate into nothingness, grabbing at the next elusive gesture until it too evaporates into quietude, moments of backward guitar and quiet organ-like drones adding a feeling of inertia and stasis. 

Not for Richards the idea of long tones that stretch a melody out over a glacial timeframe: his approach is more dynamic, using ebbing and flowing layers of sonic interplay as a way of achieving the same, and ultimately calming, effect. Listened to as whole, in lightness or in dark, Sedative Songs is a truly beautiful, thought-provoking and necessary record. 

Delay: Reflection by Goodparley was released September 18 2020 by Recordiau Prin. Sedative Songs by Goodparley was released November 13 2020 by Wormhole World. 

Words: Mat Smith 

Alex Tronic / Shuna Lovelle – The Strangest Times

The latest single from Edinburgh’s Alex Tronic somehow manages to capture the weird feeling that has been omnipresent through 2020; a disconnected, disbelieving feeling that things just aren’t right. Even in the wake of a monumentally important day that will at least change the global political landscape, ‘The Strangest Times’ taps into a peculiar, almost dissociative detachment that many of us have felt as we’ve drifted without purpose through this year. 

Key to the song’s distinctive outlook is a bedrock of serene trip-hop gestures – woozy sounds, muted beats, strings, echoing melodies – through which are laced snatches of news broadcasts from the heart of the pandemic and sirens, each new sound creating a sort of dislocated, nauseating tension and anxiety. 

The track features the arresting, soulful vocals of Shuna Lovelle, imbuing the song with a sense of reflectiveness and an admission that no one really knows what’s next for humankind. Thought-provoking stuff from the epicentre of uncertainty. 

Watch the video for ‘The Strangest Times’ below. 

The Strangest Times by Alex Tronic & Shuna Lovelle was released November 6 2020 by Alex Tronic Records. 

(c) 2020 Further.  

Pulselovers – Northern Minimalism 2

SoYo: so much to answer for. The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire has given the world more than its fair share of electronic music delights over the years. Sheffield of course draws most of the plaudits, with the likes of Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Warp Records et al having laid down a rich and well documented musical heritage.  

But Mat Handley (Pulselovers) hails from Doncaster and his latest love letter to northern England’s electronic music scene Northern Minimalism 2 showcases influences not just from either side of the Pennines, but from Europe and across the Atlantic.  

The four-track release starts off close to home with the blocky techno beats of ‘Danum Shield’, track reminiscent of latter-day Black Dog caught in a good mood. Things then move into more cerebral territory with ‘Frames Of Reference’. Handley’s frames of reference doubtless include early-90s Warp records, and te juddering, pulsating bass that lopes along, underpinning this track could easily be a nod to LFO’s eponymous hit. 

We then head back in time and on to the smoke-filled dancefloors of the 70s and 80s with the electro funk of ‘Slope And Intercept’. But all too soon the lights come on and it’s time to head home – final track ‘Night Drive‘ sees us embark on a chilled-out, 3am journey out of the steel city, or possibly the motor city. Street lights twinkle and blur in passing as this stab of Detroit-style techno draws things to a close. 

Released on Do It Thissen Records (‘do it yourself’ for any southern readers), this EP will appeal to fans, not just of northern techno (if such a thing exists), but anyone with a penchant for northern minimalism; not northern miserabilism.  

Northern Minimalism 2 by Pulselovers is released by Do It Thissen Records on November 6 2020. doitthissenrecords.bandcamp.com 

Words: Chris Hill 

(c) Further. 

Elizabeth Joan Kelly – Stay Safe

Stay Safe is a brief new release from New Orleans-based electronic composer Elizabeth Joan Kelly, comprising two new tracks (‘Stay Safe’ and ‘Cohntagious’) packed with more ideas in their fifty-odd second durations than most electronic musicians can muster in anything far longer. 

The foreground of each these two pieces is a robotic voice delivering a public service announcement-style message offering advice and guidance during the global COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Stay Safe’ features a soothing female voice encouraging the public to stay home, delivered over a frantic, post-electro framework of twitchy beats, nauseating siren-style sounds and gently reverberating tones that eradicates any sense of reassurance. ‘Cohntagious’ – named for the inability of the synthesised and vaguely Johnny Rotten-esque robot voice to correctly pronounce ‘contagious’ – encourages you to avoid your partner if they’re exposed to the virus through their place of work, its backdrop a snarling, uncomfortable stew of jackhammer beats, post-industrial clanging and a general feel of unease. 

Sounding like the infinitely looped announcements you might expect to hear in a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland where no one survived, something about what Elizabeth has done here seems to tap directly into the sensation of paranoid dread and existential panic that have become the cornerstones of our daily locked-down lives. 

Stay Safe by Elizabeth Joan Kelly was released October 30 2020. elizabethjoankelly.bandcamp.com/album/stay-safe

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further.  

The Shiver Bones Group – Horror Too Horrible To Hear (2017 – 2019)

With terrible regularity for the three years between 2017 and 2019, a murky troupe of Philadelphia-area artists known as The Shiver Bones Group released an annual Halloween Story Time record. Containing short stories narrated like macabre radio plays, backed with snatches of music, sound effects and all sorts of ghostly interventions, the Horror Too Horrible To Hear series came across like The Residents taking over the Night Vale podcast with typically warped readings of Edgar Allen Poe and M. R. James.

The Shiver Bones Group rose out of of a high school ‘zine called Sewage Waste Disposal Unit formed by three students – Michael LaLaLa, Matthew Kirscht and Bryan Michael. LaLaLa is an artist and purveyor of quirky electronic pop, while Kirscht has established himself as a collectible Halloween artist and illustrator for TOPPS’ enduring Garbage Pail Kids, whose gross characterisations can be imagined in the stories that The Shiver Bones Group released as Horror Too Horrible To Hear. Bryan Michael is a Poe enthusiast and one third of Philadelphia electronic music unit Alka, and was responsible for the FX and music on the three releases put out by the group, using a vintage 1984 E-Mu Emulator II. Other collaborators, each with the types of circumspect names one might find in the graveyard of The Haunted Mansion, drift in and out for each release like tortured wraiths.

Across the three releases you hear stories about killer ghost dogs, student-murdering ghoulish visitors, why you should never drape your arm over the bedside while sleeping, devil turkeys (yes, devil turkeys), rabid pumpkins containing chomping insectoid teeth and romantic dinners by patrons with restlessly haunted heads, each one backed with schlocky sounds and creepy fairground music for ice-cold crypts. These stories suggest vivid, terrifying imaginations filled with buckets of corn syrup blood and the most gruesomely illustrated, yet comedic, demons.

Sadly, a fourth Horror Too Horrible To Hear release was thwarted by LaLaLa, Kirscht and Michael being unable to convene to record a new instalment. For this year, you’ll just have to make do with Kirscht’s animated Bogey Wail short and his and LaLaLa’s in-demand Halloween postcards. Alka, meanwhile, have just dropped their new album Regarding The Auguries, a terrifying record that’s as horrible as these grim tales for reflecting back our realities rather than fiction.

Turn the lights down, light a jack-o’-lantern and settle into the sound of Horror Too Horrible To Hear at Bandcamp… if you dare.

Horror Too Horrible To Hear, Horrible Too Horrible To Hear Two and Horrible Three Horrible To Hear were released October 13 2017, October 13 2018 and October 17 2019 respectively. shiverbones.com shiverbones.bandcamp.com

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Audio Obscura – Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene

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. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further. 

Letters From Mouse – Watching

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. 

Words: Mat Smith 

(c) 2020 Further.