Posts Tagged ‘The Advisory Circle’

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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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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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 Pattern Forms

Tapping into the combined efforts of veteran Ghost Box artist Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle) alongside Ed MacFarlane and Ed Gibson (both of Friendly Fires), The Pattern Forms is probably the most straightforward pop release that’s graced the halls of the label. Gibson and MacFarlane bring their background in synth-pop along for the ride and it certainly shuttles to the foreground in tracks like “Black Rain” and “Don’t Let Me Dream”, but the more interesting aspects of the project arise when Brooks takes a harder tack on the wheel musically, peppering in some of his abstract touches. The two parties apparently bonded over library releases from the ’70s and ’80s and when they begin to wander into the ’80s, in particular, they find a ground that emulates some of the dreamier film soundtracks of the time.

There’s a clear ripple of melancholy that runs through the whole album that emulates ’80s stalwarts like Tears for Fears or The Comsat Angels (see “I’m Falling”) but once the record tumbles into the more expansive second side, things begin to take a turn from merely leaning on synth-pop to molding it into something more ambitious. “Man and Machine” has the same bounce and pulse as much of the first half of the record, but the sound palette gives it a deeper mood and a stab at that odd otherness that perhaps the collaborators were looking for in their approach. Similarly the rest of the second side hits harder, “Fluchtwege” adds in some guitar and synths burbling with a sadness that recalls Air at their most melodramatic. It’s the kind of track that encapsulates sadness in a way that soft focus indie films revel in. In short, Peel Away the Iv feels like a great seed that will hopefully spring to further germination. The collaboration is certainly working, but they’re stronger when they find each other in their obsessions, rather than letting the needle sway too far toward a pop comfort zone.



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