Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Box’

Pye Corner Audio

Nine years in, Martin Jenkins is still chasing the slick synth dystopia under the guise of Pye Corner Audio. For his latest, Hollow Earth, he jumps just left of Stasis, his 2016 LP for Ghost Box. Still steeped in the disembodied bio-mechanics of a future rendered sterile, cut off from contact through the invisible walls of technology and anxiety, but less blunt than its predecessor. The album practically glides off the glossy curves of plastic fixtures. It recycles air in dry batches to keep the home sterile – livable, but not lived-in. The plants are all poised to give the air some much needed oxygen, but like the rest of the environment, they seem curated rather than organic.

PCA’s work has drawn as ever from the kind of sci-fi soundtracks that have been finding homes on Death Waltz, Mondo, and Waxworks. There’s definitely the feeling that there’s a flicker of film somewhere missing its soundtrack. There’s also nods to the pulse of ‘90s Berlin as the album slides into its midsection. The creepy calm of “Descent” and the title track are replaced by heart-quickening adherence to beat – though Jenkins doesn’t shift gears hard and hairy, the anxious pulse creeps up the spine of the album weaving through the New Age warbles like a germ before it breaks like a fever sweat – almost imagined, almost unreal.

Any fans of Pye Corner Audio should feel right at home here, but nonetheless this is more refined than Jenkins has sounded since Sleep Games. There’s an icy confidence that pins this to the pineal gland, lulling the listener into a somnambulant waking dream state that’s surreal and uncomfortable. Ghost Box rarely dissipation, and Pye Corner Audio delivers another slice of surreal synth that stands up to anything in his catalog.



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RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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Beautify Junkyards – “Sybil’s Dream”

The gorgeously dense and yet criminally overlooked album from Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards was a real gem from the early part of 2018, and now the band is giving good reason to take a second look at the album. They’ve worked up one of the year’s best videos with artist. Keith Rondinelli, a stop-motion wonderland that echoes ‘90s Björk in both complexity and tone. Rondinelli’s haunted, lush and unsettling images pair well with the creeping ambiance of “Sybil’s Dream,” already a standout on their Ghost Box LP. Check out the excellent video, and if you’ve not already, get into a full listen on The Invisible World of Beautify Junkyards.



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The Advisory Circle

At its heart, the new Advisory Circle record is Jon Brooks doing what he does best, creating synth worlds that explode into vivid view over the course of an album. He’s long been using the moniker to explore hypnogogic wonderlands and Library music in equal measure but his latest leans much heavier on the latter this time, leaving the psychedelic touches that marked From Out Here behind. Jumping off from the works explored by his recent team up with Jim Jupp as Belbury Circle he’s jettisoning the Omni via Radiophonic works of his previous LP and the pastoral filmstrip aesthetic of early classics like As The Crow Flies and embracing the synth led excess of the ‘Me Decade’ in full swing.

Where Belbury Circle found its way to the darker side of synth, plumbing the depths of horror soundtracks and Goblin inspired italo-freak classics, Ways of Seeing embraces the late ‘70s and ‘80s television serial and the self-serious caper film via library tracks stuffed with tension, gloss and the kind of plastic wrapped synth lines that immediately date some of the most indelible film memories of an ‘80s childhood. There’s no moment in movies like Real Genius or Kung Fury that is not hinged on the faux futurism of digital joy that bubbles beneath the action. Likewise shows like Miami Vice found their edge in this same sonic cocoon, subtly giving viewers the feeling that recycled themes held a more modern meaning with a few extra silky synths plodding the plot along.

That seems to be the core theme of Ways of Seeing, perception changed through aural accompaniment, and its reflected in the spot-on packaging (as usual) of Julian House which mirrors ‘80s film and camera magazines and brochures of the era. Brooks has proven time and again that he’s a scholar of the music that moves behind what we watch and while his references here are no doubt well beyond my soundtrack prowess his zeal has produced an album that transports the listener to an immediate time and place, snapping the senses awake as easily as a smell tied to childhood. Even if you didn’t notice it consciously, these were the sounds that permeated a decade or more of programming. Their sounds are already in your DNA, Brooks just brings it bubbling to the surface like a long hidden scar.



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Beautify Junkyards

Lisbon’s Beautify Junkyards weave together a dream world of subtle Tropicalia (think Gal Costa submerged in water) and psychedelic folk. Rhythms shift like sands under their feet, while the band stitches languid plucks of guitar to glycerin synths and the humid swirl of birdsong. The effect of The Invisible World of Beautify Junkyards is that of being sucked into an elaborate picture book grown thick with glowing fauna in hues of deep orange, magenta and verdant green. It’s a haunting sub-tropical vision of psychedelia that’s both childlike and laden with a lifetime of ennui. The band is able to build and tend to this sonic garden, bursting with colors, but it seems that the caretakers are burdened with a sadness that keeps the glow alive.

The band adds a new dimension to their stable with the addition of new member Helena Espvall of psychedelic folk purveyors Espers. Her cello and voice flesh out the band’s vision with myriad pinpricks of hazy light – echoing on her deep catalog of psychedelia tinged with no lack of heavy sighs. It could be me, but the inclusion of an instrumental named “Golden Apples of The Sun” seems like a slight nod to the beloved Arthur Mag compilation of psych-folk revivalists in which her own Espers was included. Here, though, she’s not the only focus, sharing the vocal spotlight with Ria Vian, who also shines in shades of silken sadness and working through the orchestrated vision of the band’s João Branco Kyron.

As a whole, this is an elevated version of what the band had begun on their debut and expanded on for their Ghost Box single a while back. It’s easy to see how they fit into the label’s menagerie of storybook wonder and hypnogogic shimmer. The record unfolds with new layers of rippling beauty with each listen, marking it amongs the gentler fare of the vaunted label’s roster. It’s an album, worth sinking into and just letting the tide take ya. Forget the life raft and just float in my opinion.


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Beautify Junkyards – “Aquarius”

Coming off a solid 7″ entry to Ghost Box’s Other Voices series, the Lisbon band is now embarking on a full length for the label. The first taste is this sparkling, polyrhythmic treat, “Aquarius,” along with a suibtably psyhchedelic companion video. The band melds chugging beats with a veil of sun-squinted haze for a track that’s sniffing at similar territory blazed by Broadcast and Stereolab before them. The band now counts Helena Espvall, formerly of RSTB fave Espers in the mix and that pushes the anticpation up quite a bit from their single. Espvall’s folk work was singularly entrancing and she casts a similar spell here. The track’s got repeat appeal for sure and serves to whet the appetite for a full platter of similarly minded psych-pop. At this point I’m always intrigued as to what’s coming down the Ghost Box pike and rarely have I been disappointed. Great way to start off the year!



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The Belbury Circle

With the zeitgeist in full swing and America and the world at large back in the throes of their favorite horror-synth duo and the TV show they rode in on, it’s good to remember that the sound underwent a ton of iterations before this point. It’s also enjoyed a few revivals in the last few years, with high water marks from Outer Space, Emeralds, OPN and Pye Corner Audio picking up the Goblin/John Carpenter reigns well before Dixon and Stein found their calling. Add to that list The Belbury Circle, the duo of Ghost Box honcho Jim Jupp and The Advisory Circle’s Jon Brooks. The pair have followed up an excellent synth-mining EP (that featured the legendary John Foxx) with an equally adept full-length. The duo proves that there’s still more inspiration left in the well and show the youths how to make the most of your influences.

Both have explored moments of uneasy nostalgia in the past, though their mainstays, The Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle, spend a lot more time in the hypnogogic light-end of the spectrum than the anxious depths they plumb here. Outward Journeys is taken from the school of synth that populated Italian Library issues, crafting sweeping scores that aren’t just rooted in the nail-bitten horror end of the spectrum. Instead they manage a bittersweet ache that’s punching holes in nostalgia’s preciousness. Both halves credit television scores as the impetus to pick up synths in the first place and the album is a clear love letter to their memories of an evolving medium.

Then there’s the kicker – two more collaborations here with synth legend and Ultravoxx frontman John Foxx. The one-off collab from the EP seemed like a stroke of luck, an impossible scenario that wouldn’t be repeated. He returns, however, to hand down lessons in how to get the most out of synth-pop’s brooding atmospheres. In just two turns at the mic, Foxx outpaces the whole lot of synth-pop imitators hoping to grasp at the thread of ’80s pop permanence. The record’s soundtrack feel, prime guest spot and packaging tie-in (Julian House design as always with Ghost Box) make this one a key 2017 release and a reminder that there’s no need to settle for average synth.


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The Focus Group

Julian House again picks up his mantle as The Focus Group, spreading Radiophonic frequencies out into the ionosphere with precision, ingenuity and a glint of madness in his eye. The crux of The Focus Group has always acted like a high pressure drill, tunneling through human consciousness and presenting the core sample of childhood fears and delights alongside the useless ephemera and practical static that gum up the works in the average human brain. There’s bits of pop magic stuck in the mix here, but its littered with the lint of noise and jumbled into an organization that would befit a Burroughs cut-up.

Still, despite the chaos, he manages to evoke the low wattage flicker of a bare bulb projecting animation through cellophane on the walls while you sleep. Stop-Motion Happening moves like dreams, drenched in half-remembered facts and saturated with colors almost too rich for human consumption. This is the magic and the terror that House evokes. He’s a mad scientist of memory, plowing past the surface scratches that the likes of The Books, Boards of Canada and his own collaborative muses, Broadcast, have made their bread and butter. His approach, fittingly, is more on the level of visual art than that of musician. The album feels like it might easily soundtrack a gallery and have a dozen or so accompanying pieces that fit all these sparking wires together.

That dreamlike quality also puts him in league with film Auteurs like Michel Gondry, another artist trying desperately to capture the moment between sleep and awake. House’s work evokes the disorientation of signals that get trapped inside our many heads. He’s filtering and processing the data but it’s hard to figure out what’s noise and what’s important. That conundrum, in fact, seems to be the root of modern anxiety. House has put his finger squarely on the flashpoint of modern madness – what goes, what stays, where to look next, who to believe in all this? He’s not offering a rubic, but he’s at least showing us that someone else is having as much trouble quashing the noise as we are.




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Jon Brooks

Ghost Box drone slinger/synth wizard Jon Brooks has been an integral part of the label’s evolution, popping ’round in banner releases from The Advisory Circle, Pattern Forms, Hintermass and The Belbury Circle. He’s also been running a string of great releases out of his own Cafe Kaput, the latest of which takes shape as Agri Montana. The record is constrained to two instruments, the Buchla Music Easel and ARP Odyssey and as is often the case with self-imposed restrictions, the handicap becomes a decisive advantage. The resulting album, inspired by Alpine landscapes dives into the heart of ’70s synth work with an icy resolve that keeps emotions at an arm’s length, wandering around human ties with the kind of detachment reserved for Sofia Coppola films that should be packaged and released solely on filmstrip and cassette.

The record does have an isolating feel to it, that perhaps brings to mind the mountains if your idea of a trip to the mountains involves a lot of staring out the window contemplating the fragile line between life and death. The synthetic buzz and opposing emptiness give me flashbacks to the artworks of Alex Da Corte’s Free Roses, feeling just as much a soundtrack to his glowing, sterile surrealism as it could be to the Alpine hills. By the end of Agri Montana the listener is sanded down and numb, giving everything around them a darkened hue and plastic finish.

While that might sound like an undesirable outcome, it’s not such a sour deal to put a layer of plexiglass between oneself and the greater world’s sinkhole slide of late. Brooks creates a set of sonic hackles that protect and repel an onslaught of overwhelming emotions too abundant to parse and too weighty to bear alone. That distance is abundantly welcome, at least around here. If you do need a shock back to life, then Brooks’ other release from this year, the gorgeously pastoral Autres Directions should pump some color back into your cheeks. The two act as a nice dichotomy on hope and hopelessness for the modern age.


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ToiToiToi

Ghost Box can always be counted on to deliver something that’s both uniquely situated on the sonic spectrum and impeccably dressed from a design standpoint. Sebastian Counts’ debut for the label (following an interesting entry to their Other Voices singles series) is a doozy of an electronic playground. Toying with ideas of acoustic vs electronic, modernity vs folklore and wilderness vs civilization, the album posits field recorded samples into a buzzing, ramshackle wonderland of beats and bleeps. The album isn’t so much an echo of the souring vision of ‘folktronica’ as it is a Radiophonic studio gone to seed in the afternoon sun or perhaps an erector set left to trestle weeds and moss for all eternity.

Counts throws a ton of ideas into the pot, from clattering Raster Norton minimalism, to Scientist-styled dub and noise breaks that feel very akin to labelmate The Focus Group. That his Rube Goldberg triggered Speak n’ Spell rhythms end up lodged in your brain is a testament to the overarching complexity and talent of the author here. Its not just a hodgepodge of sound, but an electro-organic beast that’s constantly trying to win human approval – a Frankenstein’s Monster with a flower to share. Of course the whole set is dressed up in the unparalleled design of Julian House, echoing the record’s themes of city vs country. It’s seldom that the Ghost Box crew will steer ya wrong, and this is no exception. Come for the high-minded concepts, but stay for the oddly charming pop melodies bubbling long after the record clicks to a stop.




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