Ghost Box is as much a parallel universe, or an alternative present, as it is a record label. It’s music, the achingly niche Hauntology, is a cross-dimensional transmission from a world where the postwar consensus of democratic socialism was never subjugated by the negating homogenisation effects of Neoliberalism. Instead, the warm, parental powers of a benevolent bureaucracy would have carried us forward into near-utopian levels of prosperity & comfort.
Hauntology, & Ghost Box particularly, is the sound of musicians & artists mourning the loss of that particular present. It’s a futuristic sound which hearkens backwards to the last time that futuristic sounds actually sounded ahead of us, chronologically. It is a sound which is equally steeped in warmth & stasis. A nostalgic cry for a better world in this age of stillness.
Intermission, the new compilation album consisting of new material from many of Ghost Box’s top tier artists – The Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly, Plone, Roj to name a few – comes during an intermission forced upon us by the global Pandemic, & as a result of it. It’s songs draw from both forthcoming Ghost Box releases & ones which were specially recorded/produced for this compilation.
The record starts with reverb soaked drums, a ’70’s style TV ident melody & the following reading by writer Justin Hopper over a shifting, warm soundscape:
What are the dimensions of a memory? What is its square footage? And where do its boundaries lie? We speak, sometimes, of gaps in our memories, as though our past exists only in what we can still see in our minds eye. But what if there are no gaps? What if they are, instead, memories themselves? Memories of a pause. Let’s experiment together. Let’s take a moment to forget all the actions and events of our lives, and gather up instead all of the gaps, string them together into one long memory of intermissions. And if we do, will it be silent? I don’t think so. I think it will sound of a hum. A hum that slowly builds until it begins to buzz, and eventually, quietly, to roar.
It’s both comforting & unsettling. The warmth of the soundscape is undercut with a sense of foreboding that it’s hard to place. It’s also pleasant to think of intermissions, pauses, as being important enough to form together into a buzz, a roar. It’s a welcome reminder that banal balance of pandemic lockdown is important. You might not be able to do what you want to do but you are still living your life, & time at rest in the age of Neoliberalism is a rarity we must treasure while we can.
Melancholic beauty abounds on Intermission. The Advisory Circle’s Airflow is downtempo analogue synth lines & Lo-Fi drum machine loops bubbling away deep beneath the comfort blanket of the nostalgic melodies.Woodbury Vale by The Hardy Tree is bucolic beauty & sugar sweet analogue synth tones. Beautify Junkyards (excellent name) is adventurous synth Folk, drenched in atmospheric reverb & whimsical, slow motion tropicalia percussion. Sharon Krauss’ Tell Me Why is gorgeous droning, folk, infused with recorder & melodic bell tones.
Justin Hopper delivers another spoken word on soundscape track in the middle of the album. An intermission in Intermission, I guess. A brief, relaxing walk through the Recreation Park. A macabre story of walking home from school after some momentous event involving an explosion.
The Animal Door by Roj (Stevens of Broadcast) is somewhere between a mangled tape experiment & warped ’60’s Psychedelia. Jangly guitars & winding organ melodies set against a backdrop of electronically manipulated drums, it’s as upbeat & relentlessly happy as it is druggy. ToiToiToi, with two songs, utilise simple, percussive melodies looping over library recording style found sound collages & Lo-Fi beats. It’s very lowkey & subtle.
Modern Reels, by Pye Corner Audio, is spectral, dubby, minimal techno while Photon Dust is the analogue sound palate of Hauntology applied to the downtempo heaviness of Hip Hop. If DJ Shadow had room full of analogue synths rather than a pile of Vinyl & an MPC. Plone’s Running And Jumping is manic depressive video game music which reminds me of the wonderful soundtrack to the fictional videogame Petscop.
The Focus Group, with Focustone 1 & Focustone 2 offers a couple of short but sweet electronic sketches. Belbury Poly’s They Left On A Morning Like This, the penultimate track, sees widescreen, cinematic synth strings juxtaposed against analogue arpeggios & lowkey drum machine patterns. The whole song is enveloped in a kind of slow, graceful melancholia which seems to encapsulate the tone of the whoel album.
The album ends on another Justin Hopper reading, this time with sounds from The Focus Group. Intermission Conclusion has more than a hint of The Twilight Zone about it.
Memory isn’t boundless, and it isn’t perfect. We all know that. But is it even on our side? Maybe it’s closest to right when we remember the unmemorious. The gaps, the ice glare, the sheet wind, the circuits and ash. Maybe the gaps are where memory comes into its own, when its partisans join us in the struggle, in those in-between hours. Maybe it’s at its most accurate when it joins us, here, in the intermission.
Intermission is out now on Ghost Box.
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