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Xam
Tone Systems Simon Jay Catling , July 20th, 2015 07:26

There were a couple of things that stood apart amidst Hookworms' refinement of their visceral repeato-rock on their second album The Hum. Among the peak of these high points though, was the near seven-minute rager 'Beginning'. Though hardly strangers to repetition - it's partly what caused them reluctantly to get bundled into the neo-psychedelia revival a couple of years ago – 'Beginning' offered the Leeds-based five-piece's greatest realisation and understanding to-date of its physical and mind-seducing rewards. Listening to Tone Systems, it's not a hard stretch to imagine that the track's chief driving force was the group's bassist MB.

Namedropping Factory Floor's debut LP as one particular influence around the time of The Hum's autumn release last year, it's clear that MB's solo release under the moniker Xam reveals that, under the bonnet of his own creative processes, he's a firm advocate of the creation of chaos through minimalism. The three sprawling modular synth mediations here don't attempt anything like the viscera of either Hookworms or Factory Floor – you wouldn't expect a record including a track titled Coke Float to ever do so – yet they still affect a series of satisfyingly crisp snaps of the cerebrum's cogent line of thought.

As a record it's at its most fevered during Side B's sole track 'Lifer', a twenty-minute long canvas that fills the space with thick, gloopy trails of analogue transmission, coiling out like syrup from a bottle while a number of small explosions trigger off around its elongated sensation of release. It's a melting pot of ideas that go beyond the distilled sound palette brought about by its limited tools, the track's breezy reverie only disrupted at its last by ushering in the faintest of pulses and a harsher change in tone that suggests a darkness just out of shot.

'Lifer''s helped by the fact that it's preceded by a first side that provides a further, with both 'Werk & Play' and 'Coke Float' taking on a greater rigidity and more urgent propulsion. Initially seeming like it's going to frustrate, 'Werk & Play' initially struggles to get going with just a couple of basic revolutions running in tandem of each other that feel too isolated to hold the things together; however, once enforcement arrives in the rippling layers that begin to dart into the gaping space around its central theme, these foundations are in turn coerced into prising opening far richer than at first seemed possible. 'Coke Float' is bolder still, more vigorous in its approach and evocative not just of mainland Europe 70s kosmiche, but also a juddering techno dancefloor filler stripped back to its skeleton.

If there are themes to attach to Tone Systems then they're ambiguous to say the least – it's hard to ascertain even whether this is a project that will develop and grow, or if its purpose was just to capture a certain unexplained moment its creators own life – but even just taken as a series of bedroom-made sketches there's plenty to be rewarded with here. Though mixed and mastered by his Hookworms bandmate MJ, Xam recorded the album at his home in Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire and it's a comfortable narrative to imagine the still and the space around the small market town's gentle hills and green fields infiltrating the sense of calm that underpins this solo debut. The modular synth revival is now at snarky Tumblr blog-provoking levels of popularity, but Tone Systems is a record that sails far beyond such cynicism, creating a hideaway for itself away from both the bluster of its maker's main act and the wider world.

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