The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

The Advisory Circle
From Out Here Joe Banks , December 11th, 2014 11:01

And so the Ghost Box project continues. The fourth album from label stalwarts The Advisory Circle (aka Jon Brooks) comes lovingly packaged in a sleeve depicting various dead technologies and children trapped inside some experiment where it's always 1974, while the music inside evokes both the innocence and uncanniness of a recent yet seemingly distant past. I've previously used the term "alternative nostalgia" to describe this retro futuristic longing, but I don't think that's entirely accurate in the case of The Advisory Circle – "nostalgia" suggests a passive acquiescence to time's arrow, whereas Brooks seems more interested in taking the hidden forks in the road missed when the route was first travelled. What initially appear to be merely aesthetic choices could as easily be interpreted as an underlying philosophy that doesn't view reality as being just the here and now, but an accumulation of secret histories and memory loops where the past always has unfinished business with the present.

Of all the artists lumped into the hauntological category, Brooks is perhaps the most classically melodic in his approach, in the main forgoing arcane atmospherics for taut, well-defined lines and contours. Inspired by the library music of the Radiophonic Workshop and the proto-electronica of the 1970s, Brooks is clearly in complete control of his material, which makes From Out Here a particularly satisfying and coherent listening experience. (Here's an excellent companion mix to the album, where Brooks makes free with his influences).

It's also perfect that this is released just before Christmas. There's a pristine winteriness to the music, but it also functions like the Ghost Box equivalent of the quietly terrifying supernatural stories that the BBC used to put on in the festive schedule. Many of them were M.R. James adaptations, but the most pertinent example in relation to From Out Here is Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape, a brilliant and still knuckle-whitening slice of occult TV with a science-meets-the-paranormal premise. Similarly, The Advisory Circle's latest hints at a concept "where bucolic English scenery is being manipulated and maybe even artificially generated by bizarre multi-dimensional computer technology".

'Triadex Logotone' clears the psychic airwaves and opens all channels in readiness for 'Escape Lane', its strident, portentous melody (possibly borrowed from previous album As The Crow Flies) like the theme to a hard-hitting, current affairs exposé on nuclear power or a documentary on communication technologies, when such things still existed in the realm of Tomorrow's World rather than the prosaic everyday. There's a terrifically fat, horn-like tone to the synth, its stately procession subtly underpinned by piano. Other tracks in this vein include the fast arpeggios and harpsichord-like refrain of 'Vibrations And Waves', which slowly grows in power with the introduction of new elements, and the rippling, metronomic momentum of 'Discipline Before Data', like a super-charged Boards of Canada circa Geogaddi.

These peaks of analogue energy are offset by quieter, more reflective tracks. The bells, chimes and children's voices of 'Upon Oakston' conjure the environmental ambient of Eno's On Land, the weak December sun barely warming the bones of the earth. A voice intones, "Very, very quietly, I stood at the door and listened," at the start of 'Causeway Ballet', and we stand there too, straining to hear the sounds on the other side, simple piano and a swirling chiaroscuro of synth which hints at something unseen and unbidden. The ticking of a clock and phasing, misty curlicues of melody perfectly capture the dying light of 'Winter Hours', the day coming to a premature close as night draws in.

But it's far from cosy in Brooks' soundworld. 'From Out Here' itself is a re-purposed audio postcard full of the stilted formality and strangeness of a lost age, as though the sender is transmitting from deep space rather than just overseas. 'Triadex Two Five Nine' is a spooky, Ballad-esque sonic vignette, the knocking of a bass drum like the ghost in the machine trying to get out. 'Mr Foyster' is the very sound of anxiety, the experimenter recording his notes with a detached authority that reminds me of the titles voiceover to Sapphire And Steel (surely the oddest primetime show on ITV ever).

And then there's that active engagement with the opportunities the past still presents us. 'Experiment!' harks back to the primitive machine music of Kraftwerk's Radioactivity, naïve melodies picked out over an accompaniment of wheezing and hissing, exuding a mechanical melancholy, while 'The Blue Energy Programme' could be from Peter Baumann's Romance 76, its oscillating and undulating techno pop alive with mischief.

From Out Here is another beautifully crafted voyage into electronic music's substrata. In the hands of artists such as The Advisory Circle, the past continues to stretch off into a multitude of futures.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.