A Journal Of The Dark Arts
We return to the back catalog of Mark Van Hoen, to consider The Children Of The Stones, who draw an unlikely connection from folk horror to space rock to shoegaze and trip-hop.
The Children Of The Stones are a kind of shoegaze supergroup, comprised of Seefeel/Locust/Scala member Mark Van Hoen, getting back together with a high school bandmate, Martin Maeers, and featuring appearances by Slowdive/Mojave 3’s Neil Halstead, as well as M3’s Al Forrester, Rachel Davies of Esben & The Witch, and Angus Finlayson. Interestingly enough, i couldn’t find much on Finlayson’s musical pedigree, but it turns out he’s responsible for some of our favorite recent musical journalism, writing extensive, thoughtful pieces on Samuel Kerridge, Emptyset, and industrial techno in general, so clearly a man afer our own heart, adding yet more threads to this already tangled musical skein.
It seems that Children Of The Stones is a regional affair, as the musician’s were brought together by growing up in London’s orbit. Van Hoen and Martin Maers were introduced by a shared love of the Cocteau Twins, and being “quiet kids in school, trying not be noticed by the punks & skinheads.” It’s unclear when Van Hoen met Neil Halstead, who is from Reading, an hour fifteen from Croydon, where Van Hoen called home, but VH has been remixing Slowdive since at least the late ’90s, and they play together in the band Black Hearted Brother (but more on that later).
Children Of The Stones stand at an interesting intersection of the pastoral, the futuristic, and various underground music trends of the last 2 decades. By their very name, they are associated with the rural psychedelia of folk horror, in reference to the British television cult classic of the same name, that has backwards villagers chanting in stone circles at night, that is pretty much a perfect synthesis of rootsy, folksy ’70s slo-burn and science fiction.
All of these musicians – and perhaps the whole genesis of the first shoegaze movement, by dint of age and geography, could be considered an extension of, or perhaps a product of, the hauntological current. Being raised in Britain in the ’60s and ’70s, they would’ve been sucking up the uncanny, unheimlich cathode rays of funky, handmade British SF; immersed in the radiophonic clangs and wharbles, inundated with wonder and paranoia.
When you think about it, can’t you see/hear an approximation between the warped warble of Boards Of Canada, Ariel Pink, even John Foxx‘s recent meta-music, and the saturated kodachrome country drive of My Bloody Valentine or Lush?
We must remember that these would have been the same adolescents who would go on to lose their shit at raves every weekend. These kids clearly took to electronic music, at an early, perhaps even infantile, state.
I know it’s pure imagination, but i’ve had this image of some mythical British teenager, living in a suburb of London like Croydon, going to the city and flipping out on E and acid, and making his way back to his more countryfied dwelling. I imagine this youth, head full of maddening drugs, ears ringing with primal bass and raging energy, walking down idyllic country lanes in blue moonlight, tripping out on hyacinths, like a character from a Lewis Carroll story.
What i’m saying is this sci-fi futurism is implanted, deep in the subconscious, to yield phantasmagoric flowers, like a neon Edgar Allan Poe opium delirium.
Children Of The Stones are an extension of, perhaps a slipstream, of Hauntology, in that what is generally accepted as hauntology is a recreation of a certain period or artifact, making artificially aged anachronisms. An argument could be made that art that references the original materials could probably be seen as hauntological, as well, maybe 2nd wave? Things like The Caretaker and hypnagogic pop, all that came after the inaugural Ghost Box transmissions.
Where hauntology specifically references a particular period of history, Children Of The Stones are the kids who grew up in that history. As such, this could be seen as a look/listen to the dreamlife of that generation.
Children Of The Stones breathe fresh and sparkling life into every genre they touch. Rather disappointingly, the first wave of shoegaze kind of fizzled, (probably a lesson in reading the reviews other people write about you), as did several of the downbeat electronic styles stitched together on The Stars And The Silence.
What is most exciting, and most promising, about TSATS, is what a satisfying combination of the real and the virtual that it is. Sparkling guitars, sparking vibes, and swarming beats meet truly phat, stomping beats, sucking sub-bass, and analog sequencers. Shoegaze was always involved with combing guitars and elecronics, as well as exploring the mutability of sound through post-processing, but it seemed like the mission balked in the late ’90s. Records from around that time seemed unglued, not together, as somewhat generic samplepack breakbeats were laid over a bedrock of pyrochlastic electric guitars, as was the case with Love Spirals Downwards’s Flux from 1998.
Not saying it’s a bad record; I’ve actually listened to it a shitton. It’s just not that believable. I truly feel that this integration of electronics with recordings is one of the most exciting prospects in current music, leading us out of the Uncanny Valley, and into a new, liberated life.
Mark Van Hoen & co. manage to go beyond hauntology, not merely mimicking genre signifiers, but assimilating them, and making them personal. Much of The Stars And The Silence, including the cover art, seems to be exploring the nuances of a relationship, and using sci-fi imagery to do so, like on the title track and lead single, where he sings, “If I ever have to break for you/if I ever have to wade into/the stars and the silence.”
It’s a lovely metaphor for going beyond patterns and pre-conceptions, into a place of vulnerability and communication.
The best illustration of the pagan and the technological would be on “Tether”, which starts off with John Carpenter sequenced synths, until it coasts into a meteor shower and crystalline pianos, as a voice sings, “Light the fire/warm the blood,” and the Carpenter synths swim back into focus. The incantation sounds timeless, taking us back to our earliest history, while the electronics seem to serve the purpose of acting as a portal to another dimension.
For shoegazers who are also stargazers, this album is absolutely essential.
The Stars And The Silence should serve as a welcome entry, for those missing new Slowdive, Mojave 3, or Seefeel material, or for those who want to see shoegaze, trip-hop, bass music, and hauntology revitalized.
The Children Of The Stones – Stars & The Silence
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