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Hoofus & IX Tab
The Blow Vol. 1 Tom Howells , August 1st, 2016 09:02

Over the past few years, Justin Watson’s Front & Follow has become a go-to label for music dug deep into the esoteric and anthropological creases of the British landscape; releasing music by artists as engaged in the arcane tendrils of the countryside as the inward facing chaos of the city. Approaches are diverse– from Laura Cannell’s anachronistic excursions into the bleak East Anglian shorelands with Beneath Swooping Talons; to Shape Worship’s deeply engaged socio-cultural survey of London on A City Remembrancer; and, perhaps most notably, Kemper Norton’s headlong tip into the urban with Loor (he’d previously explored the ancient nooks of southern England in Carn, via F&F’s spiritual bedfellow Exotic Pylon) – but these are all elemental records totally indebted to a sense of place. So it continues with The Blow Vol 1 – a split release between the wayward, coastal-Suffolk-based electronic artist Hoofus and the ‘failed West Country philosopher-philanthropist’ Saxon Roach (aka IX Tab).

They’re concerned, respectively, with rural/industrial hinterlands, and an uncanny melding of Little England with a clandestine pastoral bent. This is realised via improvised oscillatory workouts and ecstatic IDM haze in the case of Hoofus; and a melding of more obscure sampling – manipulated recordings of hymns, dug-up library samples, domestic monologues – music concrète and warped analog flutter in IX Tab’s. Crucially, people may mark these landscapes, but their inhabitants feel long gone – when voices do appear (and they do frequently in IX Tab’s tracks) they’re spectral and liminal.

Despite the remit of the series – devised to bring together two artists for a collaborative work of their own making, with no rules, parameters or finger-wagging editorial input from the label – it’s largely comprised of each working independently, through there are four collaborative tracks.

Hoofus kicks off proceedings. Enraptured of edgelands and peripheries, his tracks take the form of repetitious vignettes; modular-sounding hymnals most successfully comprised of heady, transfiguring spirals of acidy synth. His choice of inspiration – wastelands, essentially – are of the last true vestiges of ‘wild’ space; patently unbeautiful and fittingly explored via tactile, post-rave electronica.

Imagery is both existential and industrial – ‘Despite Everything’, ‘We Faded With The Mists’ and ‘Navigate In The Dark’ segue into ‘Swab Decks of Black Ships’ and ‘Salvage and Reclamation’ – while the music flits between diaphanous yearning and fuzzily undulating tones. ‘Despite Everything’ is a case in point: two intersecting loops circle each other, afforded a propulsive rhythm by the lo-fi modulation. A minute or so in, a blissful, half-arrhythmic lead rears up, a melodic break reminiscent of Squarepusher’s ‘A Journey To Reedham’ (the bucolic, displaced prettiness of IDM’s reflective moments is a definite marker).

That’s about it, but it’s ecstatic and dense. The rest of Hoofus’ ten solo tracks take a similar tack, their skronky motifs and resonant chimes travelling a magikal parallel to Jamal Moss’ Nubian sound healing. It’s captivating, as equally redolent of the lost port of Dunwich – Suffolk’s own Atlantis – as the hulking dome of Sizewell B just down the coast.

IX Tab’s offering is closer in tone to the hauntological jams that marked Front & Follow’s Outer Church compilation in 2014, to which the artist contributed. There’s a similar degree of oscillatory looping, but it’s framed by shimmering drones, the aforementioned library/school samples and twilit instrumental passages so queasily warped as to be unrecognisable.

‘The Early Owl’ is a wistful starter, shifting seamlessly from placid ambience to a stuttering beat overlaid with a spoken sample seemingly drawn from a psychologist’s archive. Similarly, ‘To All Others’ begins with bucolic woodwind and ends in abstract tone-worship; while ‘Harvest’’s mid-section of light frequency abuse is bookended by a spectral vocal and a neat, pitchshifted rendition of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’. Again, it’s all wonderful – illusory, giddily occultist and impeccably conceived.

Three of the four collaborative tracks are dominated by Hoofus’ circular noise and feel like embellished continuations of his side, but the third, ‘The Ministry of Ontological Insecurity’ is far more successful. Grounded around an instructional voice sample – ‘I don’t believe in me / I don’t believe in her / I don’t believe in you’ intone a range of voices – the low-level existential tumult is only heightened by the aching soundscapes gloaming beneath. It’s not the only track that invites inevitable comparison to Ghost Box but it’s the one most tonally in sync with that label.

It’s a sprawling set: 19 tracks over 80 minutes, but engaging even in its simplest moments. Both as a precedent for the The Blow (next up: the grand sounding teaming of Time Attendant and Robin The Fog’s Howlround) and as a wider indicator of Front & Follow’s ever-impressive catalogue, this is a high watermark and a riveting, esoteric dip into the near unknown.