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Front & Follow & The Gated Canal Community
You Can Never Leave Jared Dix , July 1st, 2021 08:13

Despite the label's official retirement, Front & Follow records is back with a compilation inspired by an estate agents' video

“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.” Earlier, as the UK goggled at news images of the ludicrous ‘sky pool’ in London's Nine Elms, this celebrated opening sentence (from JG Ballard's High Rise) swam through my mind. I’m guessing it also played as Front & Follow’s ‘retired’ label heads cast a cold eye on a sleek promo for another high-end development and were struck by the aberrant thought, “Y’know, there’s an album project in this.”

You Can Never Leave sees thirty-ne artists each produce a new soundtrack for that same short realtor’s clip. A direct response, it’s a mix of ominous cinematic drones, industrial atmospherics, sleek Carpenter-esque pulses, and broken muzak. A set of evocative miniatures stacking into something unexpectedly coherent and overwhelming. Names both familiar and mysterious are assimilated into the whole. Watching the clip itself on a loop accompanied by this album is a fool’s errand, trust me, but there are illuminating moments where sonic details synch to the images before total brain melt sets in.

An undertow of the happy master race is sharply pulled into the light on Bone Music’s opener ‘Reality Will No Longer Burden You’. A future dystopia where the machine voice of the tower burbles icy messages like “superiority confirmed” and “strive to maintain your physical advantages”. The human voice pops up only as worn scraps; self help tapes, blank data, therapy diaries, cosmic woo, and faltering robot consciousness. Her Majesty’s Coroner For Wirral scans the static storm, drowning the BBC news in the choirs of hell on ‘Contemporary City Living’, a telepathic shortwave tuning into the psychic frequencies of closed-off spaces.

As usual with Front & Follow compilations the programming creates a flow, forming a narrative as the mood darkens and fractures. A quick scan down the tracklist and your brain is mapping out the screenplay: ‘Consume and Prosper’, ‘Nothing To Regret’, ‘Terror In The South Tower’, ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’, ‘Stepford Home Dreams’, ‘We Live In The Sky Now’ and, splendidly, ‘The Sauna Must Be Booked At Least 24 Hours In Advance’.

Salford Electronics’ ‘Deansgate Square (Robert Laing Mix)’ not only names the development and tips its hat to High Rise it even features the clipped tones of Ballard himself, offering “what most of us have to fear for the future is not that something terrible is going to happen but rather that nothing is going to happen.” The tedium this suggests seems wide of our current moment but it is the essential vision of these antiseptic colonies. Safe behind a secure perimeter and a veil of solipsism.

Scouring away the surface sheen, these multiple interpretations of one fragment become a widescreen soundtrack, a modern folk tale of hubris coming undone. The Snaps Jar cut up the motivational bullshit on ‘Timed Soundtrack’, “I’m a success” loops with growing uncertainty, split by tone blasts of doubt, “but sometimes I feel empty inside” and then “please help me”. Finally, ‘Demonsgate’ sets end times rambling in a blasted soundscape but is that thin, shaky voice the homeless guy outside or the burn-out in the penthouse?

Trapped in the remorseless logic of capital,You Can Never Leave provides a different sort of meditation tape, a strengthening of the psychic defences, a sideways act of resistance to the distorting power of wealth.