Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Seance at Hobs Lane - Mount Vernon Arts Lab

Yes, I love a pleasant surprise...like Chelsea winning, or conversing with a stranger on a bus who is not a lunatic, and of course, such sonic delights as this, which I came across whilst mooching around the digital shopping aisles the other day. It’s up there with finding that pound coin under my desk the other week – it’s that good.
   Drew Holland is the man behind it, collaborating here with Barry 7 and Adrian Utley among others. Seeing titles such as ‘The Vauxhall Labyrinth’, ‘While London Sleeps’, and ‘Sir Keith At Lambeth’, you might expect a translation of English eccentricity and spooky fog-bound streets into a series of lighter quirkiness rendered by way of quaint analogue contraptions. Instead, this album frequently plummets the darkest, hardest depths of sound, evoking more of a Ripper nightmare than 60s TV sci-fi or cavorting noblemen of the Hellfire Club. ‘Dashwood’s Reverie’, for instance, has nothing of the 18th century about it, unless Sir Francis imagines himself being abducted by aliens whilst in a drunken stupor. Still, the club’s motto was ‘Do what thou wilt’, and Mulholland has, allowing his imagination to roam free, and the results are fantastic.
   'Sir Keith At Lambeth’ is a blizzard of white noise made all the more disturbing and effective by a refusal to embellish or deviate from the direct drive of this devilish noise. One brilliant and apparently contradictory element here is the inclusion of a saxophone on ‘The Vauxhall Labyrinth’, which is more likely to evoke images of futurist LA than submerged London, yet something about the playing does conjure up fog horns of ships on the Thames. No matter, the music is a fascinating combination of the acoustic and electronic throb.
   The sax-playing on ‘Percy Toplis’ (a British criminal in the 1920s) is much more in the ‘free’ mode and, again, the sound bears no relation to the title, but that makes it more intriguing. It could have been called ‘Dan Dare’, or ‘Snake Plissken’. The rhythm is relentless over 14mins, and the horn-playing, whilst not quite on a par with Archie Shepp, serves to enhance the disorientating mood. ‘The Black Drop’, with its bowed and plucked cello rhythm, truly conjures up the past, albeit in the mode of, say, Michael Nyman, and ‘Hobgoblins’ also sounds more like the kind of thing you would expect from the titles, being much more of a quirky, fairground waltz into a world of nasty little creatures playing tricks with your mind. ‘Warminster 4’ perhaps captures the expected mood most perfectly: a Morse code message from beyond a grave of the next century, grounded in folklore by the flute, but distorted out of time by sombre synthesizers. Yet it’s the refusal to follow predictable paths that makes this project so captivating. As in the labyrinths of Vauxhall, you never know quite where you’ll end up.

(By the way, this was made in 2001 and reissued by Ghost Box in 2007)

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