A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The Advisory Circle depart the rolling green hills of England, for the inky infinite expanses of the unknown, on their spaciest album to date.
The Ghost Box cabal, and hauntology in general, has long been associated with sinister behind-the-scenes black magicians, re-arranging British suburbs on fake scenery, as well as the cognitive dissonance of futurist classroom science reels, malevolent public service announcements, and the innocent psychedelia of childhood.
The Advisory Circle’s Jon Brooks has been obsessed with this fertile dreamscape since the beginning, greatly informing the idea of the hypnagogic and the hauntological, as one of Ghost Box’s co-founders. His soundworlds are authentic anachronisms, transporting you to an era of indeterminate origin. For the past few years, Ghost Box have been expanding their era beyond the initial concept of the Radiophonic Britain of the late ’50s to the late ’70s, to include the early ’80s, as well, in all its chrome, cyberpunk glory, beginning with Pye Corner Audio’s Sleep Games. Ghost Box’s village green was suddenly neighbored by decrepit tenements and steaming, hissing alleyways, populated with winos, junkies, and demons.
On From Out Here, what’s immediately noticeable is this is Brooks’ cleanest work to date. While some of the earlier material might’ve made you feel as if you were watching fuzzy old kodachrome tv rarities, this album shines in pure, polished silver fidelity. A similar trajectory can be observed in the band Gatekeeper, who went from creating scuzzed out ’70s synth soundtracks to total fourth dimensional rave (to their detriment, in that case). With Brooks, you get the feeling that the fourth wall is being smashed, that the film is no longer being watched, but lived.
This trajectory is carried out, in miniature, during the course of From Out Here, as well.
As always, we begin with a logotone, acting as Ghost Box’s form of temple bell. “Triadex Logotone” is longer and more convoluted than all the other logotones, and tells you this is not your ordinary Advisory Circle record.
“Escape Lane” could be interpreted as the main theme, a great main theme – strident and brave and hummable. The plodding, fuzzy bassline are phat and powerful, tickling the sinuses in all the way, caressing the guts. “Escape Lane” is a great argument for pure, undiluted analog worship.
The cinematic feeling vanishes, or rather swallows you whole, with “Upon Oakston”, which begins with radioactive electronic aura, like staring at a bank of glowing dials, while keeping an eye on a petri dish beneath an electron microscope, until a haunting, floating piano line comes in, to add some humanity to the deep space ambient.
I hesitate to ascribe a narrative, where none is intended; or, rather, the narrative is subjective, and different for each, but i get a strong sense of the theme of Humanity versus the cosmos. From Out Here sounds like a spaceship, with a belly full of colonists, hurtling through deep space. The mechanical, and the forces of nature, are voiced by electronics, while acoustic instruments, like piano and acoustic guitar, provide the heart.
“From Out Here” shows there is a tea parlour with a Victrola in this saucer, as a crackling Wilcox-Gay Recordio spits out dead voices, to be swallowed by the void, perhaps heard on Earth in 200 years.
This pattern of theme followed by atmosphere is kept up for the duration of the record, which serves to keep the action plowing along, while also immersing you in it, letting you feel the effects, as if they were happening to you.
As usual, the synth selection of From Out Here is superb, from space choir pads to neon violins. Brooks always takes great pains to get the right sound, which are then glowingly and lovingly laid to tape and mastered – making compelling illusions that sound fucking awesome.
Of course, none of this would matter if Brooks couldn’t play, but that is not the case. He wrings the most expressiveness and articulation from his battalion of organs and corroded drum machines. Check the Satie-esque minimalist piano on “Causeway Ballet”, as an example.
One gets the feeling that Brooks is inspired by machines, which could be supported by the name “Triadex” appearing twice on From Out Here, as well as previous loving homages to a clock designer. The Triadex Muse was an unconventional analogue sequencer, a tone box really, with an attached light display – that was intended to replace the radio as home with entertainment. This sci-fi utopianism, peopled by odd blinking machine making unearthly sounds, fits right in with The Advisory Circle’s aesthetic. It seems like Brooks takes inspiration where he can get it – a strange idea, playing with a machine, watching an old movie, and then thinkers and re-tools it, until it is entirely his own. He is the perfect combination of craftsman and sci-fi visionary.
This is why i always write about his music, and anything that appears on Ghost Box, and a handful of other small, quality labels. It deals with the retromania debate, where critics claim we are doomed to nostalgia, to a lifetime of re-hashing old forms, only embracing what comforts, and rejecting the abrasive, becoming a culture of toddlers, in the process.
There is some validity to this, that each person must assess for themselves. In what ways are you comforting yrself? Deluding yrself?
Noise music is a decent example of this. Noise, by definition, is unpleasant, and for the most part, you have to be a little bit insane to enjoy listening to screaming feedback and possessed electronics. Unless you build an identity out of it. Or you’re familiar with it, and you can equate with something you’ve heard before, “Oh, this is a little more Rita, a little less Wolf Eyes”. It’s all a rather weak subterfuge to derive comfort out of chaos, and appear tough in the process.
But what about the things that ACTUALLY make you feel uncomfortable, out of your depth? What do you do, when yr off the map? This is what a late of the critique of late capitalism mentions; what lies off the grid? What about the rare moments of sublimity, of happy accidents? What is a world with no thrift stores to pilfer, and no holes in the wall to champion?
Jon Brooks, and all the best hauntologists, invite us to go further, to take the extra time, care and craft to make our dreams real. There is a huge leap from merely smearing a sample of an old horror movie over some electronic music, and making fully-realized, immersive universes.
At this point, merely dabbing “The Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water” over some Hammer Horror music does not make you a hauntologist. Creating artificial soundtracks for retro sci-fi films that have never existed, however, does.
So fuel up yr reactors, and set yr sites on Alpha Centauri, and prepare to leave the known and comforting behind.
The Advisory Circle – From Out Here
The Advisory Circle @ Ghost Box
Cafe Kaput blogspot (Jon Brooks’ label/home)
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