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Simon Bookish
Red And Blue EP John Rogers , January 14th, 2016 17:02

Leo Chadburn, aka Simon Bookish, returned at the tail end of 2015 — seven years after his last LP, Everything/Everything. His latest offering, Red And Blue, is a Bandcamp-released EP (or audio experiment, radio play, conceptual composition… choose your poison) based on childhood memories of the Thatcher-Reagan era, presented alongside spoken texts from that time.

After bursting into life with what sounds like a programme ident — "Red. And. Blue." — the piece blooms into a scattershot tableau of barked television-news political phrases — "a threat to our democracy", "a scourge against humanity," "our special, special relationship" — and poetic non-sequiturs such as "The shadows lengthen" and "Black, starless sky." These are mixed with snatches of bureaucratic text — "US nuclear weapons tests 1981-1991" — and lines from correspondence between Thatcher and Reagan, like "I love to hear your voice", "Go get ‘em" and "She’s a wonderful person... warm, feminine, intelligent... she has taken the city by storm."

The words are deployed in a determinedly experimental fashion — sometimes dispassionately spoken, spat out in quick succession, sung in Bookish's wryly dramatic falsetto, or layered into inaudible chatter. This textual assault comes set against a musical equivalent — a tense, ever-changing, free-form composition of synth squalls, wriggling brass and bass, that refuses to settle or sit still.

What results is less of a linear story than a pocket of history assaulted from several perspectives, superimposing polished press release soundbites against dramatised imaginings and more casual lines of dialogue or memoir. These different styles of text are smashed up against each other and garbled together, resulting in contrasts that sharply illuminate how meaning is created, explained, implied or impressed upon us — in personal, technocratic, media-centric and institutional voices.

As you may have gathered, it’s a lot to take in. But that’s Simon Bookish — he revels in complexity. His 2008 alt-pop opus Everything/Everything was themed on information overload, aka 'The Flood', containing passages like: "You'd be wrong to be afraid of the flood/ the wave brings only enlightenment/ humankind’s last chance to join hands, or drown."

But where that album was a bracing, jazz-inflected gallop through various interconnected subjects in a song-cycle that managed to be conceptual, playful, existential and joyful all at once, Red And Blue zooms in closely on one topic, compressing an awful lot into a dense and challenging 16-and-a-half minute listen. It’s intentionally so, of course — even when he’s doing pop, Bookish doesn’t like to make it too easy. So for those with the will or stamina, the ‘difficulty’ of Red And Blue also manifests as a teasing challenge: to try and unravel this crossword-puzzle.