Sunday, 10 March 2013

Trainwrekz - Ensemble Skalectrik (Editions Mego) - An Album Review?

Are you sitting comfortably on the edge of your seat? Perhaps that's a contradiction in terms. I imply a certain apprehension, or eager anticipation, without knowing you or being able to predict the state of mind or physical position approaching this. You may be restless, fidgety, eager to read and move on, in which case my preamble to what may only be, ultimately, one long amble, is making you more so. I apologise for that.

I apologise, also, for the fact that this may not turn out to be an album review.

Are you lying on a sofa with your laptop? In a comfy chair? More likely hunched over a desk. Perhaps staring intently at a tiny mobile screen whilst on a bus, train, or at a bus stop or station. If so, stop reading now, look up, look around, see that building and note it's age, it's architectural style, the stained stone or brickwork. See the faces of those people...who are they? Where are they going?

If you are on a station platform or train, you are in an appropriate place to read about an album called Trainwrekz but not, hopefully, one which proves to be prophetic. The apparently abstract nature of the album cover, by the way, actually depicts the positions of various carriages after train crashes. I hope, should you be on a platform waiting for a train, that I have not made you nervous.

Why would this not turn into an album review? I have stated (note, not suggested) before that the album review is dead. Yet I subsequently reviewed albums. Why? Because my generation grew up reading album reviews and given the chance to write them we cannot resist. Technology gave us amateurs the chance to express opinions on new (or old) releases. It gave us the opportunity to pretend we were were professional critics, and that our opinions mattered. Some of us wanted to to be professional critics, and may even have applied to papers like the NME, Sounds or Melody Maker. Perhaps we thought we were hipper young gunslingers than Julie Burchill or Tony Parsons.

Ironically, this democratic facility makes album reviewing redundant. Listeners can usually hear the album through various means, and make up their own minds. Many will have downloaded it before a review is even written. Grab a download, listen. There's no need for anything to be filtered through the process of written wisdom from critics who may or may not deign the creation worthy of your attention. Listen to either the whole album on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, or samples on the same page as the review. Yet there are many writing reviews on the internet, like heavy industry workers of old England, slaving away at a job which is doomed to fall by the wayside, eventually.

(An aside? But it is train-related)
In the old days when all we could read were professional critics via the printed word I would frequently get a train to London to watch the Punk bands they were writing about. This was before automated barriers at stations, and we found many ways to get past ticket collectors. Upon returning, we would simply jump out of the carriage on the other side and climb a low fence into a car park. This once cost me a new pair of Levi's when I jumped into an oily puddle and ruined them. It was a small price to pay compared to the savings we made on train tickets.

I'm sorry if you feel you've wasted your time travelling this far down the page. But there are worse ways to spend your time, such as attending a BeyoncĂ© gig, reading a Dan Brown novel, or watching a 'reality' TV programme. The chances are you do none of the above, although, if pushed, I would bet that you do watch 'reality TV' now and again. Why not? As I said in another post, it's a way of unwinding, and we all need to do that. For you, however, perhaps unwinding takes the form of reading Chomsky, or listening to Albert Ayler.

Writing is a form of unwinding, or more precisely, unravelling the tangled strands of thought in here, in my head, where I'm speaking from. I know no other place in which thoughts can reside, but if you do, feel free to tell me.

As I write, BBC Radiophonic Workshop recordings are playing quietly in the background. I should really be listening to Trainwrekz although, at this precise moment, interrupting John Baker's Muzak from Time In Advance is out of the question. Likewise, Brian Hodgson's accompaniment to a Cyberman being brought to life must be left alone. His sounds for the Cyber invasion would run perfectly into Trainwrekz, however, so I switch...

...Pierre Schaeffer's early forays into recording featured trains. I don't know if Nick Edwards is consciously referring to the Frenchman's sound experiments but this album starts with what sounds like a train, rapidly going off the rails. The engine's throb continues, but everything else is dissolved into dub that typifies Nick's sonic philosophy of deranged deconstruction. As the white noise of what sounds like vinyl crackle continues, sounds ricochet around...

...the Radiophonic Workshop's early work haunts this album, as it does so many pieces by modern electronic composers. The BBC studios, Lee Perry's Black Ark studio...places populated by the magicians of tape decks and mixing desks...yet Nick Edwards is striving, not to create a mood which suits on-screen action, or exorcise demonic visions of the anti-Christ by way of herbal assistance (but wait, perhaps he is!). No, he works in an improvisatory fashion for the sake of...what? He works to make sounds that please him. He is on a train which is not bound for Skaville, although, spiritually, it may be bound for Kingston via London and Bristol. The journey he takes us on is a spiral into sonic madness, where the scenery constantly shifts in and out of focus and electronic monsters appear through the mist in front of the train, as in Jacques Tourneur's Night Of The Demon. These sounds are quite capable of possessing us. They are a soundtrack for whatever we choose to imagine...echo-drenched urban paranoia, a night spent in that old house on the hill...a night spent in a dance hall where two sound systems clash...

So this turned into a review, of sorts. Not that Nick needs publicity from me. I give it willingly, however, because if you're not aware of his work, in the guise of Ensemble Skalectrik, he proves once again that the loss is yours.

Editions Mego


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