Part 2 of a round-up of some of the flipside and undercurrents of music released in the last year or so that has caught my ear and eye (visit Part 1 here).
First up is Seatman and Powell’s (featuring Belbury Poly) Broken Folk EP, which contains tracks from Keith Seatman’s last two albums and vocals by Douglas E. Powell, alongside a Belbury Poly remix of the title track.
It includes Boxes with Rhythms In, which features the following lyrics:
“I’ve been messaging to send more oxygen… And all your sending is… Boxes with rhythms in.”
The track is something of a favourite around these parts and previously at A Year In The Country I wrote the following about it:
“This is a Space Oddity for contemporary times. In a very few words set to a buzzing, whooshing, flittering in and out synth background it conjures up a whole world and scenario of its own particular Major Tom… However, whereas Space Oddity seemed quite grounded in a recognisable reality, here, as with the album as a whole, the atmosphere it creates is something more otherly, one that while connected to our own reality also runs along its own separate path… And although this is quite experimental, far from mainstream music, boxes with rhythms in has an underlying pop sensibility, accessibility and an ear for a catchy refrain/chorus.”
And is it just me or is there something about the inflection on the vocals on the EP, alongside the gently woozy synthesized instrumentation and a sense that the songs also hint at some other hidden cultural meaning that bring to mind here and there the later recordings of Coil such as The Ape of Naples album?
Vocalist Douglas E. Powell normally works in the folk music genre but the Broken Folk EP, although not overly retro, is reminiscent in part of futurist pop:
“This five song 10 inch EP combines the plaintive English voice of Powell placed amongst Germanic analogue organ, synths and sequencers creating the type of dark Cold War soundscapes favoured by the Radiophonic Workshop to the Human League. Floydian incidental music for a late 70s post nuclear meltdown drama.” (Quoted from a review of the EP in Shindig! magazine.)
And there is also something of a melancholic air to the music on the EP, a sense of loss or yearning, which is referred to in accompanying text, alongside the low-key spectral undercurrents of the music:
“Melancholic and subtly psychedelic, these songs are redolent of supernatural short stories and winter afternoons out on English landscapes. They are dark rustic reveries, occupying the overlapping territory between haunted electronica and wyrd folk.”
The EP was released by Keith Seatman’s KS Audio label in conjunction with Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly’s Belbury Music label – which he launched in 2018 and that he runs alongside Ghost Box Records. It is rather beautifully packaged, with cover art also by Jim Jupp that recalls the hardback cover of a pastorally inflected novel from maybe the 1940s or 1950s that you might discover quietly nestled away in a second-hand bookshop.
In terms of format it could be considered a 12″ single (or maybe somewhere between that, an EP and a mini-album). Out of the various formats I have bought music on over the years I think 12″ singles have been one of my favourites; more substantial seeming than a 7″, space for a few tracks, remixes and experimentation while avoiding that dreaded 8 or so track album spread over two vinyl discs syndrome that made some vinyl albums back when seem like, well, rather a faff to play and not really like an album.
12″ singles seem to have become fairly infrequently released nowadays, I suppose in part because they don’t actually cost anything less to manufacture than a full length album and so can’t be sold for as temptingly cheap prices as they once were (although I expect a fair few of the £2.99 or so 12″s I bought back in the day were in part released as loss-leader promotional items for forthcoming albums etc).
Next up is Reet Maff’l’s Is it Clearer? on the album That’ll Be.
This is an at times rather unnerving piece of music which consists of ambient electronica accompanied by surreal spoken word vocals and brings to mind satirist Chris Morris’ Blue Jam album released in 2000.
The vocals initially and for quite an extended period appear to be a fairly straightforward recording of an optician carrying out an eye test.
However, after a while the standard “Is it clearer in one or two? How about now?” etc becomes “Are you happier in one or two? Are you happier now? Happier? Does the sadness seem sharper in one or two? One or two? Do you feel any sadder now? Okay, how about now? Any sadder? How about now?” and eventually just becomes a looping and quietly threatening “Now, now, now, now and now, okay and now, now, now and now”.
In the final few seconds the optician returns to a quite normal and perky “And now read the top line”, which breaks the spell somewhat in a way that I’m never sure if I should feel relieved about or not.
That’ll Be is released by Bloxham Tapes, a cassette and digital label which has a rather nice and eye-catching cohesive visual aesthetic:
And then we come to Akiha Den Den which:
“…collects electronic music created for an abandoned space: Akiha Den Den, the crumbling amusement park at the centre of a surreal radio drama.”
This is part of a multilayered, interwoven project that includes darkly ambient, Radiophonic and at times John Carpenter-esque ominous haunted electronica, dilapidated ghost train rides, the musings of a talking thought-mining cockroach and a radio ham picking up the transmissions from Akiha Den Den and has been described as:
“...a fever dream of radio waves and half heard transmissions…” (Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)
Akiha Den Den is what could be described an enigma wrapped in a riddle, one that you can only try and solve as you tumble down the darkening rabbit hole of the world it creates…
The project’s vinyl album, CD, booklet and 7″ have been released by Castles in Space, with artwork by Nick Taylor. I would say it’s a lovely package and set of artifacts, which it is, but lovely does not seem quite appropriate for the unsettled dreamscape of Akiha Den Den.
The music for the project was created by Simon James, who has previously worked as The Simonsound (with Matt Ford) and released the dark-pop and sometimes explorations-of-the-preternatural-in-suburbia Black Channels (with Becky Randall).
Visit Akiha Den Den at Castles in Space’s website here, at Simon James’ Bandcamp page here, more details on the project and the radio drama written and directed by Neil Cargill at the Akiha Den Den site here and the Akiha Den Den theme here.
Part 1 of this post focused on releases by Howlround, Woodford Halse, Rowan : Morrison and Grey Frequency. It can be visited here.