Friday, 23 October 2015

Shape Worship - A City Remembrancer / Various - The Delaware Road

Ed Gillett aka Shape Worship must have laboured long and hard over his creation, oblivious to the fact that electronic music is mostly supposed to be either bangin' and danceable (inc all thumper variations from Noise to Industrial) or ambient with delusions of grandeur. What a fool. If he's not careful, he'll be nominated for The Mercury Prize or worse, feted by Alexis Petridis.

A convincing concept album requires a higher level of musical skill than the average chimp with a computer possesses. The idea that if you give a monkey music software and in a thousand years it will be up to Kraftwerk standard just doesn't wash with me. That said, the trouble with all that skill is that, as in Art, it can lead to nothing more than an exhibition of expertise rather than a work of creative originality or excitement (i.e. risk/experimentation).

Do you remember Yes? No? Anyway, they were why Punk had to happen. Them and Brand X. Has UK electronic music had its Punk? Mmm...perhaps it was 'Punk' by nature at birth in the late-70s as the snotty/shouty bastard brother of Kraftwerk (the best of it - the worst was OMD). Well, it's still very DIY, isn't it? A City Remembrancer for Front & Follow is not Tubular Bells, don't worry. Yet has the old-fashioned feel of a 'proper album'; those things that long-haired ex-public school boys used to make and I used to hear Alan Freeman play tracks from on a Saturday afternoon, on the headphones.

Now that we all listen to music via headphones (or ear buds, as I believe they're called) the detail in electronic music can really be heard, when it's there, which is not too often and that's where Bernard Parmegiani comes in handy. Miraculously, Gillett manages to pack virtually every possible electronic music genre into the first two tracks, which merge together in kaleidoscopic ambient/breakbeat/bass/glitch form. Mudlarks is part of the same 'movement', where the first field recordings (voices) appear. Gillett is something of a mudlark, scooping up what he finds from the river of modern sound, but instead of just hoarding it, shaping it into a coherent two-part symphony. Heygate Palimpsest provides the first clear indication of urban politics relating to regeneration at the expense of locals' wishes. Other treated voices are harder to interpret, perhaps with a view to forcing us to play the album again and again, to pay closer attention.

'Messages' aside, there's more than enough musical depth to keep us listening/re-listening as Gillett interweaves acoustic elements with beats and breathing spaces. At times it's as if we're witnessing a city being assembled, or disassembled, block by block; a city of glass, steel girders and metal scaffolding. Ending with a track which features, in brief snippet form, TS Eliot's The Wasteland, seems appropriate. In the worst possible way, London now feels like an 'Unreal City', where so many of the undead watch in disbelief as their home town is remade into a place that only the middle-class and rich can afford to inhabit. A City Remembrancer is tinged with that tragedy without lapsing into overly romanticised longing for a golden age that never was. This album is a strong antidote to bland, homogenised culture in both society and music.

The Delaware Road soundtrack is based on a story by Alan Gubby about 'Two pioneering electronic musicians' who 'discover a set of unusual recordings which leads to a revelation about their employer.' Without having read the story I can't say how well the tracks represent it, of course, but the diverse sounds don't quite gel as an aural concept. Things start in the manner you might expect with modern Radiophonic exponents Howlround before going all Ghost Box on The Twelve Hour Foundation's Hundreds, Tens & Units. The Dandelion Set's Nine Regal reminds me a little of John Barry, which is no bad thing. Ian Helliwell's Water Gardens is closer to 'pure' electronics, as you might expect, whilst Dolly Dolly's excellent Bound By Sound poem lends depth to the affair. Trouble & Strife cook up an electro-Glam stomp on The Shag and Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance by Tongues Of Fire leaps out as something different, a kind of brass band Folk quasi-Jazz tune. Asterion's Que also stands out with its Photek-style break, brassy swagger and somewhat noirish piano. Encompassing all strands of the musical Hauntology sphere as it does, from English whimsy to melodic ditties and tape reel atmospherics, The Delaware Road pretty much succeeds in what it set out to do but might have benefited from a shorter, more focused approach.

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