artifacts of the no-audience underground: daniel thomas on striate cortex

May 23, 2012 at 8:32 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas – Delighted in Isolation (CD-r, Striate Cortex, S.C.48)

So here’s the debut album by my friend Daniel Thomas on Striate Cortex, blog-fave label and home to the massive sell-out success that was running repairs – the midwich album on which Daniel and I collaborated.  Hmmm… the smell of ‘conflict of interest’ is a bit ripe, no? Admittedly, the prospect of me writing a stinging review of this is unlikely, but I can assure loyal readers that I remain coolly dispassionate and wholly trustworthy when I say that Delighted in Isolation is outstanding.  I’m hoping that heartfelt sincerity will do in lieu of journalistic integrity.

The specification is as follows: 9 track CD-r, totalling a few minutes shy of an hour, seamlessly segued into one shape-shifting whole, with indivual tracks named only with their running times. The title of the album is apparently taken from a quote by Aristotle (translated in an essay by Francis Bacon – this one, not that one) which reads:

Whosoever is delighted in isolation is either a wild beast or a god.

…and is either wonderfully intriguing or preposterously pretentious depending on how much sleep you’ve had the night before.  Also, given that Dan lives on his own in a well-appointed cabin deep in the Sheepscar woods, it makes me slightly concerned as to how he views himself.  What goes on behind that winning smile, eh?

Anyway, the packaging is of the consistently jaw-dropping quality you are safe to expect from Striate Cortex.  Starting from the inside and working out: the photo on the CD-r is of a water jet outlet from the now-demolished Leeds International Pool.  The griminess of the image is tempered by the lovely, entirely accidental, black and ochre colour scheme.  The CD-r is fixed with a foam dot to a pro-printed fold out insert, classily minimal, and this in turn is housed within a black paper envelope.  The front of this envelope is decorated with hand-made paper and sponge-printed to mirror the colour palate of the photograph.  This clever, satisfying and artfully constructed sleeve is housed in a heavy gauge Astral-Social-Club-style plastic wallet.  Beautiful.

The content, conveyed via the medium of experimental electronic music, called forth the following images to my fevered mind.  The opening track is a one minute field recording of a forlorn diplodocus stood on a mountain of landfill taking surprisingly dainty bites from bin-liners full of domestic rubbish.  His chewing is interrupted by skwees which are presumably aftershocks of the timequake that left the unfortunate creature stranded there.  The scene is set…

…and then reset.  The following section has a science fictional feel as we travel around engine rooms, deserted corridors and chambers housing humming machinery – obviously working, but to no apparent purpose.  Perhaps a probe bursting with nanotechnology crashed into the wrong planet, terraformed it, built bases and has been waiting ever since for the human colonists – colonists who died years before, having arrived on the correct planet only to find their destination still a barren rock.

In the third section, the ruling A.I. of the deserted planet, driven a little crazy by entropy and silence – obviously neither a wild beast nor a god, decides to build a time travelling device in order to find out what happened.  Every machine still working is bent to this task and we have a series of tracks documenting their progress.  This sequence has the alien precision of Julian Bradley’s recordings as The Piss Superstition and is just as unfathomably irresistible.

In the final section, comprising the last three tracks, the time machine is turned on.  There is no ceremony, no fanfare, just the gathering fury of an insistent fuzzed-out drone which begins in track seven and really shakes itself loose in track eight as the laws of physics are pulled in uncomfortable directions.  This winds down and is partially resolved in the ninth and final track.  Has anything happened?  Well, there is a dinosaur eating landfill so: yes.  Did it work out exactly as planned?  I don’t know – does anything?

Reading the above, perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that I first heard this whilst I was off work sick. Dan kindly provided a sneak preview but the effort of downloading it proved too much for me and I had to retire with it to bed. Thus I was horizontal, in a room dimly lit solely by spill from the curtain edges and in a state of feverish, over-medicated near-delirium. As I slipped in and out of consciousness I found myself enjoying it immensely. However, since returning to health I have stress-tested it in the usual environments and am happy to report that it swats away tricky listening conditions and robustly enforces reverie.

Leaving dinosaur-related whimsy aside let me lean across the table, look you in the eye and conclude thus: Delighted in Isolation is an accomplished and deeply satisfying set.  The impressive technical savvy with which it is composed and compiled is never an end in itself but instead always serves the flow.  There are stand-out tracks – I’ve listened to that final section god knows how many times – but more importantly there is a coherence, a unifying aesthetic, throughout which allows for a sophisticated emotional response from the listener.  Dan is a storyteller.

I think you should buy here.  Whilst you are waiting for it to arrive, more stuff by Dan can be heard here and why not check out his other duo, Hagman, here?  He has also recently started a blog and is currently in the advanced planning stages of a label of his own.  It’s all very exciting.  See Sheepscar Light Industrial for details.

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