19 Sept 2014

Album Review: Jon Brooks "52"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin ( The Hare & The Moon)

Jon Brooks is a name that should immediately be familiar to fans of the output of the Ghost Box record label or to listeners of the hauntology genre in general . His spooked and analogue dérives have graced many a classic album from his previous solo work to releases under the Advisory Circle moniker such as 'As the Crow Flies'. Here, he follows up his previous Clay Pipe release 'Shapwick' with '52', a collection of ghostly and desolate sonic sonnets that evoke both hazy nostalgia and a sense of otherworldliness. Inspired by memories of his grandmother’s house and garden, there is a deeply human element to the evocative vintage electronica and synthesised sounds contained herein.

'Morning Window' opens the album with frozen hymnal drones, evoking the coldest of winters. It's a mood piece and an effective one. 'The Mezzanine's pizzicato melody also creeps in the shadows, scratching and cobwebbed but also oddly beautiful and deeply affecting. Reminiscent of Moon's Music era Coil or perhaps late 70s Kraftwerk (had they grown up in one Britain’s concrete new towns) there is the sense of nostalgia and sadness for things and times lost mixed with an eerie sense of dread and discomfort. There are ghosts in this music, moving between the past to present and back again. 'Fibre Optics' adds electronic hums and squelches which become curiously percussive and begin to suggest their own melodies, not unlike a more haunted version of OMD's (early hauntological classic) 'Dazzle Ships'. 'Pond One' is a shimmer of warm but foreboding analogue tones, a gentle melody picking its way through the sense of winteriness and building subtly to a quiet crescendo of great beauty. 'Hothouse' in contrast is a short interlude of a series of dread filled hums, drones and keyboard rises leading into 'All The Way from Leafield's more rustic birdsong, albeit this is also combined with generated electronic whirrs and clicks. There is a sense of dérive within this album (even if it is a walk through memory rather than a physical location), a walk through psychogeographical territory; perhaps some English town where the ancient land and ley lines still vibrate and breathe beneath the pavements and parks. 'December Trees' is a gorgeous and chilling shimmer of a song, gentle synth hiccups over a drone as smooth and cold as glass.

Over on side two (how delightful to be able to say that in a review) 'The Back Room's piano notes reverbate, filling the space with an almost choral and religious sense of wonder. Suggestive of other works such as that of composer Richard Skelton, this is an exercise on the beauty and sense of sacred space that repetition and minimalism can create. It's a stunning and heartrending piece and needs to be heard. 'Lichen' continues the lonely walk through the bleak landscape of memory, gentle vintage bleeps and computer noise permeating the symphony of ringing notes and melodies. This music may be electronic but it says something about the human condition and our connection with the environment around us much more than many more 'organic' releases. Indeed, one could make an argument for this being a form of modern folk music. 'Walk in Store's sinister resonating chimes add a sense of dread and of the unknown, this is not necessarily a pleasant amble through the rooms of the past. Something else lives here with us and it is ancient. 'Pond 2' is a glacial masterpiece, strings building on creeping bass notes, the end result a virtual shiver of a song. Surely there must be a BFI release of unearthed footage of British life somewhere that this hugely evocative and descriptive music can soundtrack. It would be a perfect fit. 'Wax Lemons' metallic drips and drops also paint a sense of aloneness, of the quiet of winter or the dead of night; again of the environment being alive with something unknown, an imprint of ours and others’ pasts. 'Whispering Glass', its organ melody both melancholy and yet strangely hopeful, is the longest piece on the album and is a conclusion or finale or sorts. Utterly entrancing and heartrending, its sheer beauty floats and swells majestically and mercurially. The album evokes the sense of being on a journey in general and this penultimate track feels like a return home. It is hugely affecting. Closer 'End of the Corridor' returns us briefly to the humming sense of melancholy dread and the idea that this is not the end; that the journey or the environment and our pasts will be alive again in the morning, waiting for us.

I cannot recommend this album highly enough. For aficionados of The Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly and Pye Audio Corner this is a must. Brook's himself describes his music as "everything's fine, but there is something not quite right about it." This is an able description of a music haunted by its past and its possible futures but which is also a thing of great beauty. Soon to be released on vinyl (with download code) and housed in a startlingly lovely sleeve designed by Clay Pipe owner Frances Castle (check out her other releases and incredible sleeve designs) this is an essential acquisition. Do not miss out on this; do not let it become just a haunted memory.

Edition of 500 - pre-order coming soon, directly from Clay Pipe.

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