A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The Advisory Circle’s Jon Brooks revisits his grandmum’s house, with this spectral suite of retrophonic synths and concrete melodies.
Everybody has a yearning for their childhood, for that feeling of exporation and immense possibilities. That’s why nostalgia is such a potent energy – art that summons and suggests the feeling of old and comforting things.
Nostalgic art is at the heart of the Hauntological/Retromania debate, where some critics believe that we are all out of fresh ideas, that we are doomed to make copies of copies of copies, removing the energy and vital force of the original forms. The most common example of this (and it’s a bit dated, at this point), is the rosy pastoral reconstructionism of Mumford & Sons, which would lead us all to believe that peasants, scratching in the dirt, were singing and dancing with broomsticks all day long, totally overlooking the poverty, illness, and general misery common to many of this world’s poor working classes, throughout history.
As a further illustration, contrast the funereal murder ballads of Dock Boggs, or the blasted, apocalyptic religiosity of Son House, versus today’s coffeehouse manifestations of the blues or folk music.
On his most recent effort under his own name, The Advisory Circe frontman illustrates what a layered and complex topic the past is. First and foremost, 52 is an exploration of a childhood spent at an idyllic, remote house in the country, with all the requisite feelings of wonder and investigation. This particular country house, however, has The Tomorrow People and The Changes playing on a small cheap TV set in the kitchen, rabbit ears at a 33° angle, where David Cain and Li De La Russe’s music is cut-up with macabre public service announcements.
This dichotomy is expressed by fluctuating between warm, analog, ambient synth meditations with radiophonic swirls, bleeps and flourishes, like the sound of a petri dish mutating beneath the Martian sun.
Twittering birds and a creeping, crystalline synth start things off with “Morning Window” – warm as orange marmalade, and much recommended for those looking to interject some wonder and whimsy into their own mornings.
After breakfast, Brooks tiptoes out to “The Mezzanine”, with a tip-toeing synth bassline and an adventurous theme, slight and restrained – both of which are festooned in slight dub echoes and graceful “shirrups” of tearing noise. It’s primetime, classic Brooks, with a strong, emotive melodicism, which is simple but effective. Like Pye Corner Audio playing Erik Satie.
The alien atmospheres begin with “Fibre Optics”, where beetles tapdance across sheet metal, while algebraic equations hum and stammer. Confusing, disorienting stuff, like an old academic synth or musique concrete record.
Back to the emotive theme music with “Pond I”, a truly gorgeous falling melody, drifting arpeggios descending like snowfall, or like ripples of light. Stunningly beautiful, the moment where 52 comes together, and reveals itself to be a thing of genius.
Jon Brooks, solo as well as with The Advisory Circle has a knack for creating personal statements within a conceptual framework. Sure, he may be making artificial adverts and incidental music, half of the time, but we must wonder, what compels him. Between the notes, on his plasticine electric harpsichords, and buzzing, ominous menace, we find Brooks revealing himself. There is an emotiveness to his analog pads and simple childlike melodies that is absent from the imitators, from the color-by-numbers producers.
“All The Way From Leafield” is a truly disturbing, squiggling, writing number, all bubbles and blemishes, with little birds in the background.
“December Trees” strikes the balance between the radiophonic and the pastoral, as a rising hiss approximates the sound of wind passing through bare trees, while the bones of a melody peek out from a mile away, like the sun behind silver-grey clouds. “December Trees” is the perfect soundtrack for right here, right now, at this very moment and time, wherever you may be. (I’d be curious how our readers from the Southern Hemisphere would take this interpretation of December.)
We come back to Earth, back indoors, with “The Back Room” – the sound of a ticking grandfather clock and a pretty 3 chord motif, which is gradually built and fleshed out with a drifting contrapuntal bass melody.
The B-side follows the same trajectory as the A, autumnal gorgeousness, interspersed with cold, dreadful electronics. “Lichen” is an up-close examination of aimless, wandering wonder, like looking at a stone under a magnifying glass, while “Walk In Store” is a buzzing, ominous testament to waiting. “Pond II” is one of the highlights of the record, where the cold, lonesome alienness is met with reflective, mysterious glistening washes, like moonlight reflecting on the water.
Things start winding up, with “Whispering Glass”, which bears a striking resemblance to Eno’s instrumentals on Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, as well as on Another Green World. Like Eno, there is a feeling of timelessness, as well as futurism, something that sounds ancient as the hills, but entirely of the moment, or a moment that has not yet happened.
The past meets the future on 52, which puts it somewhere around the present. For any aspiring musicians or producers who may be reading this, take this as an example of how to add depth, detail, and nuance to electronic music, to make something human with the technological.
The extreme soundbending capacity and infinite control of electronic music is making it possible for us to dream up new worlds, and express our emotions with an unparalleled amount of control. We must make the most of it.
The Advisory Circle’s new record, From Out Here, came out yesterday, so we took the opportunity to catch up and delve into this record, in preparation.
52 is long gone from all sources, for which i apologize. I don’t mean to point you towards impossible-to-find music, but i recommend seeking this one, as it’s essential. And, as ever, i write, also, as a reminder to keep an eye on Cafe Kaput, or anyone related to the Ghost Box canon, as there stuff is essential, and tends to disappear quickly.
For anyone wishing to know more details about Jon Brooks, and the making of 52, take a look at the Clay Pipe page, and take a listen to this excellent interview with Brooks for BBC Tees:
We’re still rushing around, to keep tabs on 2014. Any 2014 records you think we should feature, or that you think more people should know about, leave us a comment! Or drop us a note on FB. Follow Forestpunk on Twitter for more music news and updates, madness and wonder.
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