Label: Border CommunityRelease: Out Now
Luke Abbott’s Holkham Drones remains one of the most auspicious debut records of recent years. Its arrival back in the summer of 2010 seemed to herald a seminal new talent, with Abbott’s ability to craft pastoral electronica from analogue homemade hardware and old machines not only placing him in his own genre, but rejuvenating James Holden’s Border Community label in the process. Listen to either Holden’s stunning album from last year or Nathan Fake’s Steam Days from 2012, and you can hear Abbott’s influence. That these two staples of the techno leftfield engaged with analogue aesthetics to put out the best albums of their respective careers so far, pointing towards a clear inspiration and making Holkham Drones something of an epoch-defining record. Now, an unrushed four years later, comes the follow up album. No pressure then.
Thankfully, Wysing Forest lives up to expectations by Abbott’s decision to ignore the temptation to re-create the successes of his debut and instead do something else entirely. Whilst Wysing Forest is not a complete departure – the warm analogue aesthetic, droning synths and galloping poly-rhythms remain – it is nonetheless a very different album to Holkham Drones.
Recorded over six-weeks in Wysing Arts Centre in rural Cambridgeshire, the album arose from a period of intense studio experimentation. Whilst for most records, the conditions of composition might be relatively unimportant, listen to Wysing Forest and Abbott’s conceptual focus on ‘process’ is ever-present. The second track on the album, the almost thirteen-minute long ‘Amphis’, exemplifies this. A shifting and modulating low-end bounces along to a backdrop of abstract noises, that gradually give way to clanking kicks and warm washes of synths. New sounds constantly rise up from the ether and then disintegrate, before the whole thing seeps into a sea of feedback. It’s a slow, weird journey, and listening to it you can almost see Abbott at work, twisting dials and flipping switches, short-circuiting machines and creating new connections.
‘Amphis’ is the first of several truly grand moments on the album and underlines the fact that Abbott is a musician who has as much in common with the tonal experimentation of the avant-garde, as he does with the dance-floor. That’s not to say his dancey stuff is absent from his new work, far from it. The expansive and cinematic ‘Free Migration’, with it warm and fuzzy low-end and its scintillating synth work, is the kind of electronica that drew everyone’s attention to Abbott in the first place. What’s more, it marks a dancey and upbeat mid-section to the record, bookended by the warm techno of ‘Highrise’ and the expansive kicks and loops of ‘Furling’.
Yet, the dancier moments are the exception rather than the rule – although that’s not to say you couldn’t dance to some of the stranger cuts on offer. The album was apparently influenced by spiritual jazz and modern composers such as Terry Riley, a fact apparent in both the record’s unusual use of rhythm but also that it operates as a sum of its parts rather than as a collection of autonomous tracks. The final third of the record, with the distorted ambience of ‘Tree Spirit’, the abrasive noise of ‘Snippet’ and the majestic beatless finale ‘Amphis (Reprise)’ offer a kind of fuzzy symmetry to the album’s opening half. Listened to in one sitting it is an almost over-whelming experience.
Wysing Forest might not have the immediate ear-worms that Holkham Drones did, there’s nothing the equivalent of ‘Brazil’ or ‘Trans Forest Alignment’ here, and on the whole this is a much more difficult and at times colder prospect than his debut album. But then, that’s point. This is a record that demands something of its listener, and which gives back in equal measure to the attention you’re willing to afford it. Like Holden’s album last summer, this is the antithesis to the kind of LP that gives you everything the first time round. Instead, it is a record that demands replay, and which you’ll find yourself going back to over and over, discovering something startlingly new and intimate each time. A more mature, coherent and over-all satisfying listen than Abbott’s first LP, Wysing Forest is an incredibly accomplished piece of work and another weighty chapter in what is already proving to be an impressive career.
Words: Pete Adkins