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Album Of The Week

Coastal Explorations: Visitations 0202 By Rachel Aggs
Stephanie Phillips , August 6th, 2020 08:06

Prolific post-punk guitarist Rachel Aggs goes it alone on her debut solo record and discovers beauty in an inward-looking sound, finds Stephanie Phillips

It’s been ten years since the DIY punk world first heard the now trademark, off-kilter guitar stylings of Rachel Aggs. The 2010 release of her first band Trash Kit’s self-titled debut was awash in spindly guitar riffs, lo-fi sensibilities, and sing-speak group harmonies. In the decade that followed, Aggs has taken the concept of prolific to the next level, releasing two more albums with Trash Kit, four albums with her post-punk dance trio Shopping and, two with the Scottish Album of the Year award-winning indie pop duo Sacred Paws. The sound of her West African highlife influenced guitar style has heavily impacted the DIY scene in London and her current home of Glasgow, demonstrating that punk influences can be found beyond the confines of the white punk scene.

Despite her lengthy career, endless creativity, and love for starting new projects, she was yet to release a solo project. Aggs always seemed to prefer the comfort of a communal band life. As she told Pictish Trail, founder of Lost Map Records, on the Visitations podcast: “I have always known that music is something that makes me really happy and is something that symbolises community and family.” Given her history of finding community in bands, I was intrigued to discover she is releasing her debut solo album as part of Lost Map Records residency series Visitations. Artists are invited to a rural bothy (a small cottage) on the Isle of Eigg in Scotland to write and record new music with the hope that the lack of modern distractions and an immersion in the rural landscape will spark creativity.

This all begs the question, given her long band history, without her collaborators and fellow community members, what does Aggs sound like? The answer is both everything and nothing you would expect. The album in many ways is classic Aggs. Energetic guitar licks that have enough warmth and positivity to lighten the foulest of moods sit comfortably with homespun, 808-style drum machine beats and funk-influenced bass riffs. ‘New Beat’ fits perfectly within this vein and could easily exist on the last Sacred Paws album, with its sunny riffs and admissions, “you’re a heartbreaker, scene stealer, heartbreaker”. ‘The Table’ will also satisfy Aggs fans, with its curious dance punk harmonies and layered highlife-inspired guitar licks.

The influence of the bothy on Eigg is etched into the fabric of the album, heard in field recordings of the sea, running water, and homely sounds of a whistling kettle. The theme of bodies of water and uncertain journeys are a constant on the record as heard on the thumping, Raincoats-influenced ‘Into The Sea’, where Aggs declares “looking into the sea, the sea is looking back at me / follow the signs, stick to the path”. On this album, the sea is almost a personified character driving the narrative of the stories and able to draw out the deepest, most personal reflections from an individual, simply by existing. On ‘Waters Rising’ the sound of running water opens the track as Aggs divulges her need to “sing to the sky, sing to the waves”. It is one of many instances on the record where we can hear the influence of nature and the revelations that come when you’re truly faced with isolation.

Aggs claimed she went into the residency hoping to create experimental music unlike anything she’s made before. Although she believed she abandoned that notion early on, the album does show a different side to Aggs as a creative. On ‘Hours Away’ Aggs creates a sleepy, synth-heavy dream pop number that has a steady confidence reminiscent of late era Breeders or alt-folk artists like Aldous Harding. Elsewhere on the record, Aggs take another unexpected but welcome left turn with the bubblegum pop track ‘Thrill Seeker’, which bears a resemblance to Whigfield’s ‘90s school disco classic ‘Saturday Night’, if reimagined by indie pop icons Beat Happening. The lo-fi cheeriness of the track is a demonstration that Aggs truly can weave gold out of any material.

Visitations 0202 was an experiment of sorts for Aggs to see if she could make something of her own, something she didn’t expect to hear. For the listener, it is an experiment that draws you into Aggs’ own inward-looking journey, recreating the sensations and echoes of isolation, loneliness, and transformation, for all to seek solace and understanding in.