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Astral Social Club, "Neon Pibroch"

Neal Campbell continues his strong run of releases as Astral Social Club. This album should satisfy fans of his impressive back catalogue, but the music here is good enough to deserve separate treatment and should not be caged in by references to the past.


"Tripel Foment" begins similarly to Campbell's other experiments in ambient beatscapes. A bassy, four-on-the-floor techno pluse pushes the track along pleasantly. But the track becomes compelling when he ditches that rhythm and lets his sounds fly untethered. The song keeps its momentum as scraps of sound detritrus float over the mix like luminous insects. At 12 minutes, the pitch bends up sharply as the song hits its crescendo. A looped guitar riff breaks in while a tremeloed static whirls in the foreground, carrying the beat for a few more minutes till a sudden and jolting rest ends the song.

The rest of the album lacks the percussive backbone which holds up "Tripel Foment," but they hold their own unhurried vitality. The title track meanders for more half its length before finding critical mass. Reversed chime swells and subdued guitar picking float lazily into a thicket of resonate beeps and flanged bellowing. The signal processing fights against this dense buildup, diluting the racket until it becomes a limp mass, percolating into gradual silence. "Big Spree" has the same meditative pacing, being built around a cloudy snyth drone peppered with icy, ringing tones that build into a snow storm of radiant sound particulate.

As detailed as each composition on this record is, they are certainly not fast paced. No song here is under 12 minutes, but Campbell is not the kind of musician that mistakes subtlety for monotony. Stale sounds are gently taken away from the mix or processed into something entirely different. The basic components are very simple: a three note guitar figure; pieces of static; some bells and chimes. Isolated from the whole they would sound thin and artificial, but within the tightly wound arrangements of this album they take on a cosmic immensity.




Review of the Day

Four deviant love songs make up the latest EP by COH (Ivan Pavlov) with collaborators Peter Christopherson and John Balance of Coil, Steve Thrower of Cyclobe, Frankie Gothard and Louise Weasel. The disc comes lovingly packaged in a clear slip case with amusing cardstock inserts, color illustrated and Spanish captioned, for each song. As with some of the previous EP "Vox Tinnitus", "Uncut" pairs the guests' vocals with Pavlov's precisely programmed, laptop generated chaos. "My Angel [Director's Cut]" and "Fffetish" are reinterpretations of mid '80s pop tunes, Soft Cell's "Meet Murder My Angel" and Vicious Pink's "Fetish", respectively. On "Angel" Christopherson's (and possibly Gothard's) vocalized hums, sighs, moans, movements, watery slaps and thumps could be construed as sexual overtures more overt than anything suggested in the few lines of softly spoken/sung lyrics. "Fffetish" is as danceable as the original with driving electronic pops and hi-hat as Gothard vehemently insists "when you're near me my whole body aches" and "you are my fetish!" Thrower's "Prayer For Russell" (Moore, a gay porn actor) is more restrained and tone/drone based. His effected voice recites a barely decipherable, possibly double entendre series of lines such as "come into the waves of time" and "come beneath the waves of time". But it's Balance, unsurprisingly, who delivers the most vibrant and vigorous vocal of all. In "Health & Deficiency: Love's Septic Domain" he passionately decries the humiliation and horrors of "dirty hospitals" and daily medical methodologies: "I take 27 pills before 9 a.m. in the morning / another 35 by 9 in the evening / I have 3 intravenous injections a day / one in the thigh, two in the eye". Meanwhile, Weasel deadpans spoken lines here and there, perhaps summing it all up best with "I'm confused between sexual, murder, magick and medical ... is the difference metric or imperial? septic? fertile? furtive? or sterile?" The song reminds me of the themes explored in Coil's rendition of "Tainted Love" and the soundtrack to Derek Jarman's "Blue" and proves to be the most powerful of these cuatro canciones. Out next for COH will be a collaboration with visual artist D42 entitled "Netmùrk" for Source Research Recordings.



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