Summer Sides
So I mentioned that I spent some time recently beneath the Andalucian sun, catching up on some reading. Needless to say, there was also music to catch up on, and first let me say that John Carney is right when he says that Colleen’s The Golden Morning Breaks is great music to unwind to on a summer’s evening. And whilst it is now forever tied to the memory of gazing out past rolling hillsides down towards a distant Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, it also reminds me of lazing in the sun more than a decade ago, revelling in the sounds of The Orb’s huge ever growing pulsating brain under little fluffy clouds, whilst somewhere just to the North Jim Beattie fermented dreams of chopping up and collaging samples that would later take us on adventures in our stereos. Which means it’s as fine a record as you could hope for, really.

Similarly fine and in a similarly downbeat and chilled vein is Portal’s Waves And Echoes collection on Make Mine Music. Treading a line that meanders somewhere between Oval, Broadcast, Cocteau Twins and labelmates July Skies, Portal have made a beautiful record that is evocative of lost afternoons sunk in the lushness of sun-speckled forests; of tracking the coastal path past abandoned bunkers and squinting at the platinum shards of light reflecting off the horizon; of sitting on concrete rooftops amid cities’ electric hum and mechanised rumble, reflecting on vapour trails and the memories of eyelashes closing in slow motion across your cheek. Portal is the sound of summer vibrating and fragmenting, coalescing and collapsing in on itself under the weight of skies of painful blue. We can only hope that the great British summertime does it justice.

Another treasure of sunblissed unwound sound that treated my afternoons in Spain and which is currently sitting in the sidelines ready to sidle out and sip the sunbeams of England’s Flaming June, should it decide to arrive in earnest, is the Memory Column set on Darla by arch modernists Mahogany. Now I had heard their name dropped in ‘space-rock’ circles before but never investigated, though listening to this collection of ‘early works and rarities 1996-2004’ makes me wish I had paid more attention. Then again, if I had, this set would have not given me the sense of delight is has done, and anyway, it’s a moot point. What really matters is that the bulk of this twenty song two CD set is a delight of gossamer Pop with a modernist slant. Not that we’re talking about sounds that draw lines to the likes of The Creation or The Action. In fact the sounds couldn’t be further from those Beat Noise Soul roots, and rather this is clearly a group in love with the whole architectural / art ideal of Modernism as posited by the likes of Mies Van Der Rohe, thw De Stijl group or the Russian Constructovists (check out song titles like ‘The Age of Rectangles’, ‘The Singing Arc Lamp’ ‘Sophie Taueber-Arp’ and ‘Nelly Van Doesburg’), and in fact sonically Mahogany are closer to the likes of Seefeel, Stereolab or early Broadcast. And whilst all the tracks are certainly worth checking out, of the two Cds it’s the second that appeals most to me, as the sound hardens and patterns and grooves become more coherent and defined. It all reaches a magnificent peak on the truly sublime ‘L'éphémere Est Éternal’ which revolves around a glorious refrain that twists around itself, lifting the whole song to heaven, or at the very least to the outer reaches of the visible solar system. This is a song that should feature on all summer mixes from now until the end of time. And just for good measure, it segues nicely into a cover of OMD’s wonderful ‘Bunker Soldiers’, which gives a nice glimpse of where some of the roots of the sound and aesthetic of Mahagony lie. Personally I think it would have been cooler to have covered something from Dazzle Ships, but that’s just me being very picky.
Also on Darla is the Azure Vistas set by Manual, the moniker used by Jonas Munk for his electronic meanderings, and it’s certainly a perfectly titled collection that’s custom built for the summer. The songs are multilayered pieces that revel in a sonic palette that includes angular guitar shards, distant reverbed vocals, synths with sights set on Sunset Boulevard, bells twinkling in the morning light, old school drum machine sounds beamed in from the mid ‘80s, and a host of other things besides. Rolled together and picked apart, they come together to create lengthy (mostly seven or eight minutes) pieces of atmospheric oblivion, the highlight of which is the twelve-minute ‘Summer Of Freedom’. Aptly titled, this track conjures images of rolling oceans, sun bleached sands, the sharp contrasts of gazing out from shaded glades onto expanses of ochre fields. Sonically, it’s Seefeel meets Sons And Fascination era Simple Minds meets Kevin Shields meets David Sylvian; in other words it inhabits a world where boundaries blur and where sounds collide and move within and around each other to make something instantly, comfortingly recognisable yet with an abstract sense of the new. Certainly one to look out for if you like your electronica on the grand side and blending into the realms of atmos-rock with a vague gothic edge.

If however you prefer your electronica shorter, sharper, harder and with a more industrial edge, you could do worse that check out the ‘Happyland’ EP by Soiled, whose ‘Mindnumb’ EP I brought to your attention some time ago. With four tracks of warped no-fi tomfoolery, ‘Happyland’ is a fine slice of UK underground techno punk. My personal favourite is ‘Uttoxeter Holiday Incident’, mainly for the brilliance of that title, but also because it sounds suitably dingy, grubby and with an altogether unsavoury sense of mesmerising ugliness. It sounds like walking along Teignmouth seafront on a rainy bank holiday afternoon, the sounds of amusement arcades drifting in through bedraggled waterlogged candyfloss. The other side of summer, indeed.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett