Count Backwards To Black
I used to have a penchant for techno music, and like most things I like, I always found it difficult to explain exactly what that meant. So when kids would say Ďso youíre into techno then?í I would um and ah and say well Yes and NoÖ although certainly with respect to the kind of frantic techno that they played, it was most certainly mostly No. No, what I meant by liking techno music was that I liked a lot of music that used electronics in the way that other people might once have used guitars or horns or strings (and still did, and still do), people who just happened to use electronics to make interesting sound, music that went into those odd little back avenues with a torch at the dead of night to look for the discarded treasures of the world. So my favourite Ďtechnoí music was the slightly skewed, the dark and detached moody meanderings of outsiders entrenched in basements and bedrooms piecing together some kind of personal narrative that wove into the stars and deep in the earth. My favoured techno always sounded a little soiled, scuffed and stained: The Sabres of Paradise, Autechre (their minimalism always sounding to me like it has patinas of rust appearing at the edges), Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard, LFO, and lets not forget A Guy Called Gerald, who to me always sounded on the verge of breakdown into dark recesses. And even those early Acid cuts from people like Phuture and Fast Eddie sounded like they had scrappy edges, Mike Dunnís ĎMagic Feetí sounding like they were dancing in Joey Ramoneís battered converse hi-tops. Ditto the ace Detroit techno from Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins and Suburban Knight; all their deceptively smooth techno-funk electronica underpinned by the grit of the Motor City streets.

Thereís a great line from former Sabre of Paradise Andrew Weatherall in issue 2 of Loose Lips Sink Ships where he talks about how his vision of the future has always been more Brazil than THX 1138. I think that really hits the nail on the head, and itís fitting that it comes from Weatherall because he more than anyone has made the music that fits with that vision. Itís there in the old Sabres records, most notably in the magnificent Haunted Dancehall and itís there in the just released Double Gone Chapel album by the Two Lone Swordsmen project that is Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood. Not that itís really an electronic album at all of course, being filled with guitars and Ďrealí drums, but who cares anyway, right?

Maybe itís the sad trainspotter in me, but I do love seeing people make reference to other things of importance. So it is with Double Gone Chapel (on the legendary Warp records), whose title is a reference to the classic Jim Dodge novel Not fade Away. Really you need no more reason to buy the record than for that. I mean, anyone who has the sweet sense to reference such genius has to be worth investigating, right? Not Fade Away is all about the search for mythology, about immersion in obsessive nostalgia, and Double Gone Chapel rummages in the same themes. The spirit of early rockíníroll then pervades the record in the way that the same spirit seeped through Not Fade Away and indeed through early Punk, and thatís no surprise really when you consider Weatherallís illustrious history. And really Double Gone Chapel is a great Punk / post-Punk album that I swear could be slotted next to Suicide or PiL and not sound out of place.

Thereís also a great reference in opener ĎStack Upí to those old record players with the long centre spindles on which you could stack ten singles, an early analogue version of the iTunes playlist no less. We had an old red Marconiphone player and some of my first memories of music are of stacking up old Johnny Ray, Elvis and Teddy Bears singles on that and dancing around the bedroom with a tennis racket.

Double Gone Chapel then is a record that takes these hues of sharp nostalgia and infuses them with a contemporary infatuation with fractured societies, and really that whole Brazil parallel is so apt, because this does sound like a vision of a future filled with paranoia and brittle facades of pleasure. Itís the kind of record that burrows into your psyche, the kind of record that demands repeated playings and that gives out more with each revolution. A contender for Record Of The Year if ever there was one.
Iím tempted to say the same of Flashlight Seasons by fellow Warp artiste Gravenhurst, except Iím going to be pedantic and tell you itís merely a contender for record of last year, this Warp release being a re-issue of the same album pushed out as a split release through the very wonderful Sink and Stove, Red Square and Nick Talbotís (for he is Gravenhurst) own Silent Age labels. I donít think I ever wrote fully at that time about the record and thatís a shame because it played a lot and was worthy of a lot of attention. Now maybe with Warp pushing it that will happen. Itís quite a strange release for Warp, a label not exactly renowned for their track record with singer songwriters. And Nick Talbot is nothing if not a gifted singer songwriter. He puts me in mind of a young Ben Watt, when he was waiting like mad, or of Stephen Duffy in his days of lilac, all sweet gentle strength and wonder. Flashlight Seasons is a record that I file next to the beauteous Clientele, to the aching Arco, to the most haunting Felt moments (think ĎI Worship the Suní or ĎCathedralí), to those mesmeric July Skies recordings and to The Kinksí late Ď60s classics if only for the fact that they tread the same fine line of exploring a state of Englishness that barely exists or ever existed except in mediated mythology, all the while filled with an unsettling undertone of paranoia and idealist anger. Flashlight Seasons is one of those wonderfully self-contradictory fragile-yet-strong gems that fix you with steely eyes and whisper such eloquent words of love and hate. You stumble on them so rarely that as a consequence you hold them so dearly to your heart that they never leave you. June 28th is the release date for the Warp version. If you arenít marking it in your diaries then you have no soul.

Warp of course continue to be a rare delight of a label, although it remains a mystery to me why they have not picked up on Black Moth Super Rainbow, whose new Start A People collection has just been released on Graveface / 70s Gymnastics Recording Co. I first came across this naturally strange duo in 2001 when the autumn kaleidoscope got changed album (by Black Moth precursors satanstompingcaterpillars) dropped unannounced on my desk. Since then thereís been an album a year from the Pittsburgh based pair, each of them stacked with the kind of strangely beautiful electronic sounds that people like Boards of Canada might make if they spent a summer staring at clouds from the roofs of barns, dredging up long hidden childhood memories. And that really is the key to Black Moth Super Rainbow: their records are infused with the burnt out colour and shaky vision of degrading super 8 home movies, of mildewed photographs discovered in abandoned farm houses, of rusting wind up toy race cars with keys long since lost. Black Moth Super Rainbow are obsessed with ideas of self-imposed nostalgia, of the self myth-making process. As such they continually tinker with old songs, giving them different hues each time they record them, like a process painter obsessing over the subtle differences in their canvases. The results are of course magical: rustic electronica of the highest order that youíd be mad to miss. Someone tell Warp to release it in the UK! Make Black Moth Super Rainbow the strange stars they surely deserve to be.

© 2004 Alistair Fitchett

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