21/02/20 This week I have been mostly listening to

Amorphous AndrogynousTales of Ephidrina and The Isness. It came to my attention that I might be missing a classic from my ever growing collection of early 90s ambient-techno/post-rave/electronic listening music – whatever you want to call it. Future Sound of London (of which Amorphous Androgynous is an alias) are one of my all time favourite electronic artists. They were pioneers, with a unique style and far-reaching vision and they just seem to stand outside of any scenes or trends – the mystique no doubt enhanced by the fact they very rarely give interviews.

You could maybe look at Tales of Ephidrina as something of a warm-up act for the Lifeforms double album. It’s definitely in the same musical landscape: ambient soundscapes composed of found sounds, heavy use of film samples, snippets of ethnic/world music all woven together to instill a post-apocalyptic sci-fi atmosphere, evoking a dark future where the cities have returned to jungle and are roamed by tribes of warlords/shamen/cyborgs. Anywayyyy, such fanciful notions aside this album is more straightforwardly dancey than Lifeforms, and at half the duration, is not so engaged in such detailed world-building.

So Tales of Ephidrina falls halfway between Accelerator and Lifeforms – plenty of acid house pulses, rave breakbeats and tribal sound effects. Outside of Psytrance, and what might loosely be termed Psy, you really don’t hear much Techno that draws so unashamedly from world/indigineous music (horribly Western-centric terms). To give one example,  Liquid Insects pumps along with a solid techno beat, and squelchy bassline but instead of a rave synth there’s a panpipe sample. In the wrong hands it can come across as horribly cheesy but thanks to FSOL’s commitment to a fully cinematic vision for every track, it just works. 

The Isness was also released under the Amorphous Androgynous alias and could not be more different. I remember when this came out, as it would’ve been around the time I was properly getting into FSOL’s music, and it being widely panned. The band completely overhauled their sound and released an album of full-on hippy dippy psychedelia. And I’m talking South-East England circa 1967, not Goa circa 1997.

As psychedelic rock seems to be having something of a renaissance now (I am listening to more of it now than ever anyway) it seemed a good time to finally give The Isness a hearing. I’ve only listened to the album twice through so I can’t say much, except that most of the time, you really wouldn’t think you were listening to FSOL. I think some of the tracks are best appreciated as pastiche. I can’t listen to the lyrics, ‘Mumbo Jumbo, Slow fellatio’, on Mello Hippo Disco Show, sung by someone doing a hackneyed impersonation of David Bowie crossed with Syd Barrett, without feeling like Cobain and Dougans have their tongues firmly in cheek.

It’s such a well-worn musical trope: when a band records album that sounds nothing like their previous output and there is always the same range of reactions: the album is panned by critics and fans alike (see Rolling Stones’ Satanic Majesties), or the album is heralded by critics and splits the fans into two camps (see Radiohead Kid A), and various permutations thereof. I am of the view that it takes guts to reinvent yourself and artists should always be applauded for the effort, but I can’t muster up any strong feelings about this album and doubt I’ll return to it often. It will remain a curiosity in the discography of two eccentric and mysterious artists.

Vanishing Twin – Age of Immunology (2019). I gave this a try based on the recommendation of the Quietus’ best albums of 2019 list. Vanishing Twin are an interesting band, comprising members hailing from different countries and musical backgrounds – a fact that is reflected in their sound. I’ve only played this album a handful of times but I’ve enjoyed it and will listen more. The music has a filmic/soundtrack-y quality, and I can’t go any further without the inevitable reference to Stereolab. I doubt there will be any reviews of this album that don’t mention Stereolab, but I’ll go one music-journo cliche further and suggest that if Stereolab and Pram had a child, it would sound like Vanishing Twin. The macabre, very English, dark kitsch of Pram combined with the cool, continental retro-futurism of Stereolab. But that droll comparison doesn’t do justice to an album with far more wide-ranging influences at play.

Bardo Pond – Lapsed (1997). I am a sucker for a list. 25 best dub techno tracks. 50 mind-blowing albums of 1997. 100 best albums of the last decade. They reel me in and I end up going down endless musical rabbit holes. One list that proved particularly fruitful was Pitchfork’s 50 Best Shoegaze Albums (of all time, natch), which is where I first came across Bardo Pond, and their album, Amanita. This album, Lapsed, was released one year later in 1997 and is essentially more of the same.  Although their sound is heavy (heavy being the operative word) on guitars, feedback, and distortion – it’s not what I would typically term shoegaze. Moreso: heavy psychedelia (space rock?). Think monolithic walls of distortion, reverb and half-legible droning vocals. The audio equivalent of a river of molten rock: slow, burning and unstoppable. Perfect for cranking on headphones and tuning out the outside world.

Ben Sims – Essential Underground (2003). I love that feeling when you press play on a record and a few seconds later get that realisation, ‘this why I love x’. Which was exactly the feeling I had the other day, on my way to the gym and 1 minute into Ben Sims’ Essential Underground mix, after I’d got past the obligatory intro of samples and scratching and general fucking around and the needle dropped on some properly banging tribal techo circa 2003. My mp3 collection back in the day used to be chock full of mixes like this. Listening to this reminded me why. Including tracks by Dave Clarke, Jeff Mills, Smith and Selway, (etc – you get the idea) mixed to peak-time breathless intensity by Brit Techno-don, Ben Sims. If you know, you know.

Ben Sims, doing what he does best

Pond – The Weather (2017). Around a year ago, I went through a real phase of trying to get into Pond. On Beards, Wives, Denim they churn through 14 tracks of free-wheeling straight up psych-rock, showcasing their ability to spin on a sixpence and take a track on a flight of fancy at any point, before bringing it back for a big chorus. The record sounds like what it is: a bunch of dudes rockin out in someone’s basement. Man it Feels Like Space Again follows a similar free-wheeling style but the production is much shinier: the band’s sound is enrichened by synthesisers and glam-style production. Pond are very clearly talented musicians: adept at crafting poppy hooks and choruses as much as full on psyche-outs. But like a precocious child whose boredom with the basic curriculum soon turns to distraction, I feel Pond are dicking around somewhat. Here and there you get a glimpse of what they’re capable of – Sweep me off my feet is the pick of the album, with hilariously self-deprecating lyrics (‘I used to be elegantly thin, I’m sorry babe, we both missed that train’) and a climax that arrives like a genuine pay-off rather than just another musical flourish. The Weather retains the shine of the synthy electro glam of MIFLSA – a similar sound to compatriots Tame Impala’s recent releases. In fact the band sound better than ever, I just wish they’d write some better songs.  

The Other People Place – Lifestyles of the Laptop Cafe (2001). I heard a track credited to The Other People Place on a mix years ago, and always loved the infectious, haunting electro melody – combining the best elements of the Detroit techno sound. It featured a sped-up computer voice saying something like, “We’re the people from the other side, Let us take you on a magic ride.” I couldn’t find any track by The Other People Place matching this description and after some digging, I’ve realised it was in fact a track by D.I.E. called Other People, hence my confusion. Anyway, it’s also very good.

In recent times, I’ve finally made time to listen to the only album recorded under The Other People place, an alias of James Stinson – electro pioneer, and spotlight-shy vanguard of the Underground Resistance movement, who tragically died at the age of 32. I heard Let Me Be Me on another mix and never knew who it was so was very pleased to finally identify it on this record. So simple but so perfect, I could listen to that track alone on repeat. Highly recommended for all fans of electro, detroit techno, and immaculately produced analogue electronic music.

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