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Zea + Oscar Jan Hoogland
Summing Richard Foster , March 19th, 2020 10:02

Recorded in just one take, this collaboration between The Ex's Arnold de Boer and Oscar Jan Hoogland is a strange, often magical listen, finds Richard Foster

Creation often chooses queer ways to reveal itself. This record, for example, first began to take form a year or so ago in Ghana and Burkina Faso, where Arnold de Boer (aka Zea) and Oscar Jan Hoogland toured as support to those mighty Ghanaians, King Ayisoba and Ayuune Sule. The energy transfer between all these artists must have been a powerful one, as the LP that may document the fruits of the Dutch pair’s experiences, Summing, was recorded in one straight take in the legendary Katzwijm Studios (a vital cog in the Netherlands’ underground scene this last two decades, despite it being a glorified flower bulb shed in a dowdy village). Summing is a strange, often magical listen that seems to have a foot in two worlds.

The opening two pieces, ‘They Often Believe’ and the title track, act as sonic spirits that make us wonder where the narrative thread is. The elements in both are left deliberately loose and disconnected, but over time and repeated plays the two tracks form an invocation that summons up the rest of the record, much like a travelling conjuror beginning a show in a village. In fact their spell only breaks by the third number, ‘You're Dead’ which articulates all the thought forms that have been slipping past us, half seen.

Hoogland and De Boer seem intent on sowing as much confusion as they can. ‘We Lost Our Phone’ is a deceptively simple declamation that allows a segue into the long drawn-out groove of ‘The Little Man on The Stairs’, which is as “organic” as the record gets. Listen out for the squiggly electronic undertow Hoogland creates, which sounds like Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright playing a very, very, tiny organ. ‘Pniek’ follows on in a similar vein, where, upon the crow of a cockerel, a fidgety piano part fences with the dry rattle of the guitar licks.

But, for an artsy record made by two underground apparatchiks dosed up by their experiences with Ayisoba and co., (and who aren’t averse to making a right old din), it’s also a very easy album to listen to. Possibly because you can sense the underlying human warmth in Summing’s message and the fun in its playing. As we know, fun making music breeds a confidence and clear sight, which often leads to surprising results. Take a track like ‘Atomic Heart’, a torch song if ever there was one, the sort of ballad Kim Wilde would have once traded in. Here, though, De Boer and Hoogland have passed up the chance of adding a glitz or any other aural cladding to the song’s construction, happy to reveal the concrete underneath. Note, too, that De Boer’s vocal shows a surprisingly vulnerable side, his wavering tones beautifully backlit by the odd prompt from the piano and electric clavichord.

The confidence to trust the bare, human essentials in the music is a key reason why Summing is such a seductive listen. These tracks seem to come up unseen and tap the listener on the shoulder; and initially obtuse metaphors make wider points courtesy of a clever lick or a simple phrase. The combination of gentleness and bracing honesty is very disarming: a track such as ‘I Never Threw A Stone’ for example can easily create space for contemplation and allow a sensual indulgence in all the odd nooks and crannies of the sound. If ever a record deserved to be heard in its own time, it’s this one.

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