Album reviews: Radiophonic Workshop - Burials In Several Earths, Erasure - World Be Gone, Chastity Brown - Silhouette Of Sirens, and more

Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology, Angelo Badalamenti - Music From Twin Peaks, and Low Cut Connie - Dirty Pictures Pt. 1

 

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The Independent Culture

Radiophonic Workshop, Burials In Several Earth

★★★★☆

Download this: Burials In Several Earths; Things Buried In Water; Some Hope Of Land; Not Come To Light; The Strangers’ House

In America, science fiction of the ‘50s and ‘60s was soundtracked by the elegant whines of the Theremin and Ondes Martenot, their sleek tones intimating a future of luxurious mystery in parables from Forbidden Planet to Star Trek. By contrast, British sci-fi from Quatermass to The Hitchhiker’s Guide was darker, more dystopian, and built on a budget from Heath Robinson bits and bobs and balsa-wood backdrops – characteristics echoed in the scores created by the Radiophonic Workshop, whose classic dunga-dunga-dunga-dunga theme for Doctor Who was created from gigantic loops of a single note, pitch-shifted by speed differential.

That single piece is one of the landmark musical works of the last century, just as much as The Rite Of Spring, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Like A Rolling Stone”: and notwithstanding the competing claims of Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder and Jen-Michel Jarre, it made the Radiophonic Workshop probably the most widely-heard electronic artist in the world. Not that you’d recognise them in the street: though the late Delia Derbyshire’s name is relatively well-known, few have heard of her colleagues Peter Howell, Roger Limb, Dick Mills and Paddy Kingsland, founding members of the group started in 1958 at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram.

To emphasise its avant-garde principles, Oram took as the group’s manifesto a section of the philosopher Francis Bacon’s utopian novel New Atlantis, detailing the musical modes practiced in the sound-houses of the newly discovered land of Bensalem. These included “harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds… divers instruments likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have, together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet.”

For this latest project the aforementioned quartet, along with associate Mark Ayres, have returned to New Atlantis for the track titles of the works comprising Burials In Several Earths. These were created from “blind” improvisations by the group, with no computers or sequencers involved, and minimal post-production. The results are remarkably coherent, affirming the players’ empathic instincts for mood, texture and tempo. The title-track is typical: opening with a gently undulating drone, it builds quietly with darker, more concrete tones – the bark at 2 minutes, the aptly subterranean deep, diving bass at 3 minutes, etc – disturbing its progress, until a machine-like figure establishes a more purposive character around the 6-minute mark. Around 10 minutes in, the electronics fall away to leave just a plaintive, hesitant piano; but it’s the way that the most harmonious, melodic moments are left until the last few moments, after the piece has wowed and fluttered its way close to 20 minutes, that packs the weightiest emotional punch.

“Some Hope Of Land” and “Things Buried In Water” are similarly lengthy, absorbing bouts of musique concrete, although the latter’s sounds are often closer to helicopter blades and plummeting jet-planes than anything sub-aqua, until sprays of marimba-like tones arrive, 17 minutes in, like fluttering shoals of fish evading the distant whirring pulse of a turbine screw. These are the kinds of evocations only possible in this genre of music, and then only in the hands and minds of skilled, imaginative technicians like these. Thank heaven they’re still out there.

Erasure, World Be Gone 

★★★☆☆

Download this: Love You To The Sky; Still It’s Not Over; World Be Gone

Of Britain’s inheritors of the Radiophonic mantle, few have more skilfully adapted their innovative sounds to revolutionise pop music than Erasure’s Vince Clarke. There’s a beguiling modesty about his work on World Be Gone, which eschews fancy flourishes in favour of presenting each song at its optimum: as in the way that the melodic lines of the title-track percolate free of the anchoring beat, allowing plenty of space for Andy Bell’s earnestly regretful vocal. It’s an odd album, split between full-on dancefloor stompers like the euphoric summer romance anthem “Love You To The Sky” and less successful stabs at political commentary such as “Lousy Sum Of Nothing”, an overly simplistic bout of finger-wagging about how “the world has lost its loving” in respect of the refugee crisis. By far the best of these is “Still It’s Not Over”, which uses classic nursery-rhyme plague metaphors - “like a ring of roses, everyone was falling down” - to commemorate Aids victims.

Chastity Brown, Silhouette Of Sirens 

★★★★☆

Download this: Drive Slow; Carried Away; My Stone; Pouring Rain

On Silhouette Of Sirens, Chastity Brown offers what she calls “snapshots of memory, both lived and imagined”. Fortunately, her life has been eventful enough – brought up, bi-racial, in a trailer park by a loving mother and abusive stepfather, and now a self-proclaimed “queer woman of colour” – to bring variety to her songs. Most, such as “Wake Up” and “Whisper”, are love-songs, snapshots of emotional moments – in some of which, as she acknowledges in “Drive Slow”, “what is even happening, one can only guess”. They’re driven by gently pulsing, simpatico arrangements of guitar, piano and ambient pads, only developing urgency and swagger in the rolling backbeat of “Pouring Rain”, where she admits, “I only wanted you to miss me when I’m gone”. The reflective tone of “Carried Away” is beautifully matched by the complex restraint of the backing, as is the seven-minute centrepiece “My Stone”, which coalesces magically from subtle tints and touches of sounds.

Jane Weaver, Modern Kosmology 

★★★★☆

Download this: H>A>K; Modern Kosmology; Loops In The Secret Society; Valley; Ravenspoint

With Modern Kosmology, long-time Manchester folktronic siren Jane Weaver has made her most completely realised album yet, albeit by dispensing with folk music almost entirely, in favour of more forceful Krautrock and psychedelic influences. The new direction is established from the off with “H>A>K”, one of several tracks on which electro pulses or undulating synth lines are underpinned by rolling Neu!-beat drums. Elsewhere, neo-psychedelic phasing, woozy keyboards and atonal guitar drones swirl around tracks like “Did You See Butterflies?” and the title-track, a shuffling waltz-time arrangement of fluting minimalist synth pulses. It’s in the pastoral fantasia of tracks like these and the ‘60s psych-pop throwback “Valley” that Weaver’s folk roots show through, though her new Krautrock inclination is confirmed by the appearance of former Can vocalist Malcolm Mooney on “Ravenspoint”, delivering his gloomy but indisputable prognosis – “We are on our way to dust” – over a sublime swathe of raga-rock.

Angelo Badalamenti, Music From Twin Peaks

★★★★★

Download this: Twin Peaks Theme; Audrey’s Dance; The Nightingale; Into The Night; Falling

With David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot about to reach our screens, this reissue of Angelo Badalamenti’s music from the original series offers a reminder of just how innovative the project was, over 25 years ago. Just as the series itself paved the way for open-ended mysteries and quirky crime shows, so did its score introduce an element of sublime, melancholic noir menace into pop, clearing the ground for trip-hop and subsequent exercises in moody soundscaping. Badalamenti’s soft synth pads occupy an ambiguous realm of threat and safety, a dialectic embodied in the way that the sinister low twang of guitar stains the sweet piano progression of the “Twin Peaks Theme”. Elsewhere, vibes and woodwind ooze sleazy sensuality in “Audrey’s Dance”, with finger clicks adding languid cool; while in her three vocal tracks, Julee Cruise’s voice epitomises innocence betrayed. Of course, I might be biased: reader, I got married to this music.

Low Cut Connie, Dirty Pictures Pt. 1

★★★☆☆

Download this: Dirty Water; Death & Destruction; Angela

“Come on children, rip it up!” entreats pianist Adam Weiner here in “Revolution Rock n Roll”, the opener on this latest release from Obama’s guilty pleasure. Like the album as a whole, it’s a love-letter to the dirt and drive of rock’n’roll, embodied in the paradox “I can’t be trusted/And I’m still disgusted”. At their best, on the barroom piano rocker “Dirty Water”, there’s a brazen, Stones-y charm to the tart, offbeat guitar twitch and raunchy slide guitar; while societal decline is dealt a simple slap in the punchy rocker “Death & Destruction”. Weiner downshifts for the ironic piano ballad “Montreal”, with its revealing admission, “All of my friends got herpes in Montreal… all of my friends don’t answer when I call”. Small wonder, then, that he should encourage the eponymous “Angela” to ditch him and head for the big city, advice delivered in Springsteen bar-band style, replete with sardonic slide guitar and “la-la-las”.

Mulatu Astatke, Mulatu Of Ethiopia

★★★☆☆

Download this: Mulatu; Chifara; Kasalefkut-Hulu

Though now revered as the father of Ethiopian jazz, back between the late ‘50s and early ‘70s Mulatu Astatke spent time first in London then in America, where he immersed himself in New York’s jazz scene. It was there that he recorded his earliest albums, of which Mulatu Of Ethiopia is the most significant, representing the first fruits of his attempt to combine the Ethiopian five-note system with the twelve notes of American jazz. It’s not a task his session players always mastered well: while Astatke’s vibes on the smooth lounge-jazz of “Mascaram Setaba” flow freely, the accompanying staccato electric piano is somewhat hesitant; though most of the time, there’s warm interplay between the riffing horns, flute, vibes and percussion. At times, it resembles Sun Ra’s late-‘50s Afrocentric period, as tracks like “Chifara” and “Mulatu” find Astatke piecing together the elements and rhythms that would become the distinctive sound of Ethio-jazz upon his return home.

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