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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.

Important

"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.

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Review of the Day

"HORSE HOSPITAL RADIO VOLUME THREE: THE TEMPLE OF THE THRILLER"
The Horse Hospital
The Horse Hospital has carved out a unique place among London's numerous arts venues, serving as central headquarters for the more eccentric fringes of the underground and avant-garde media and culture. They've hosted art exhibitions from the likes of Joe Coleman, Mark Ryden, David Tibet and Steven Stapleton, in-person readings from Peter Sotos and Adam Parfrey, as well as film screenings, DJ sets and live performances from various personages too numerous to mention. Recently they've expanded into experimental radio broadcast, hosting a fortnightly hour-long show on London's Resonance FM. The show reflects the obsession shared by The Horse Hospital's curators for pop-culture mashups, audio distortion, easy listening dimentia and transgressive musical forms. Far from the gimmicky "The Strokes meet Christina Aguilera" of Freelance Hellraiser or the bland over-processing of artists like Knifehandchop, Horse Hospital Radio is a sidereal window into our collective pop-culture imagination, performing a series of variable-speed exorcisms of the extreme ends of the musical spectrum. Programmed by the inimitable Mister Sloane, Horse Hospital Radio Volume Three is a free-form continuous DJ mix that plunges Johnny Mathis into a gas chamber, vents in the laughing gas and sprinkles the whole mess with dialogue snippets from George Ratliff's Hell House. Green Velvet's rave flashback is slowed down until it resembles a funereal psychedelic march into a zero-gravity rabbit hole. The siren sounds and the mix takes a sharp left turn into the joyful drum n' bass insanity of Lightning Bolt and a quick drop into the tweaking aggression of hardcore dancehall, and it's off into a hypnotic, 10-minute quagmire of 50 Cent's "In Da Club" genetically grafted onto the flip instrumental side of The Neptunes-produced "Grindin'" by The Clipse, pitched down and time-stretched to slow-motion tribal pummeling. Punk godfather Bertie Marshall pipes in with an abbreviated rap about his favorite prescription painkillers. These post hip-hop mutations come courtesy of The Penalty for Harbouring Partisans, partially the work of artist Ian Johnstone, John Balance of Coil's new partner in aesthetic terrorism. Jhon Balance can be heard towards the end of the track, blankly intoning "Nothing's too sad for words." Some uneasy digressions into grating noise and black metal follow, including a stunning marraige of The White Stripe's "Seven Nation Army" to the murky sludgecore of Sunn O))). Complete with bizarre shout-outs from Michael Jackson and Vincent Price, the whole thing washes over like passing out watching MTV on a lethal mix of Quaaludes and DMT. But more than that, it's able to reveal thrilling new dimensions of trash culture and extreme expression, pointing to a possible new direction for the cultural heirs of the post-industrial milieu.

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