The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Jon Brooks
Walberswick Bob Cluness , June 2nd, 2015 10:33

Walberswick is a small, sleepy village situated at the mouth of the River Blyth on the east coast of Suffolk. A former trading port of importance, today it mostly consists of holiday homes and cottages, a place that modern life forgot, and where time, while not stopped, has pooled and congealed. A few miles south of Walberswick lies Dunwich, an ancient medieval city lost to the crumbling cliffs and ever changing coastline, while a few miles further south from there is Sizewell B nuclear power station, a reminder of the ever encroaching industrial world staring back at you. The surrounding flat, expansive landscapes of shingle coastline, reed marshland, and brush heathland have been described by Mark Fisher in his recent book Ghosts Of My Life as a place of "sublime desolation", comparing the area, dotted with rotting and rusting coastal defences, to "the zone" in Andrei Tarkovsky's sci-fi film Stalker.

Walberswick is also the name of the latest release from musician Jon Brooks, on the Canadian imprint More Than Human records. Over a series of releases, both under his own name and aliases such as The Advisory Circle, D.D. Denham, Georges Vert, King Of Woolworths and Hintermass, Brooks has developed and fostered an alternative urban Britain of today and yesteryear, suffused with benign social-bureaucratic institutions, mystic musical school lessons, and hauntological sci-fi architecture.

Outside of the urban centres, Brooks has also sonically mapped out other areas of the English landscape, most notable in the albums Shapwick and 52, released on his own Café Kaupt label. But whereas those albums contained minimal compositions and instrumentals of rural melody and pastoral bliss, Walberswick see Brooks delve into a more abstract blend of electronic sounds and field recordings.

In true Brooks style though, the album begins with the sardonic, 'Mr Brooks, I Presume' – a recording of a doorstop introduction and a display of radiophonic style electronic plops and clicks opens up into an approximation of African tribal, a wry aside to the British ideas of exploration and travel. From here Walberswick settles into a thick blend of nuance and sound that envelops you in a blanket of ambient dew, only briefly punctuated by the sparse sounds of glistening tones. Using the Buchla electronic music box as the main tool to generate sounds, tracks such as 'Pocket Fire' throb and pulse with energy, as Sizewell's nuclear orb glowing in tandem with menacing intent in the night distance.

Throughout the album, Rothko-like tones and drones drift in like the morning fog, laying and blanketing over each other with soft grace. Tracks such as '2700 Kelvin' and 'Violet Tide' and 'Walberswick' capture those witching hour territories of the rising dawn and the fading twilight with astounding simplicity and beauty, unencumbered by fussy musical frills or melodies. The only real moment of composition comes in the form of 'My Corner (Audio)' where Brooks creates an austere, hymnal piece where the slight infusion of reverb and tape hiss provide a moment of solemn reflection from the village's only church. Despite the naturalistic allure of Walberswick, 'Seventy Degree Off Grid' reminds you of the imposing nature of the Suffolk terrain, articulating an haunting landscape that builds upon its off-kilter drones, making the area a rural enigma of inscrutable and impending doom, invoking the Tarkovsky's "Zone" alluded to by Fisher.

From Dungeness to Douneray, via Canvey Island and Jodrell Bank, Britain is full of hinterlands where the uncanny of the rural are parked together cheek by jowl with the ghosts of our industrial past. Undoubtedly there will be local places that are particular and personal to yourself (For me, it's the concrete defences of the North Wirral Coastal Park). Walberswick is an impressive paean to such liminal areas and another example of why Brooks, along with the likes of Richard Skelton, is fast becoming one of preeminent chroniclers of England's hidden ecosystems and esoteric histories.