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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.




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Review of the Day

Anyone who mourned the passing of Otomo Yoshihide's incendiary plunderphonic rock improv explosion Ground Zero should give 'Anode' a blast now! The opening and closing highly percussive attacks are comparable to the middle section of Ground Zero's 'Last Concert' recording, where the duelling drums let fly, however these are more chaotic and loose, multi-layered and free. Perhaps this is no surprise considering Ground Zero demolition drummers Uemura Masahiro and Yoshigaki Yasuhiro are once more punishing the skins. 'Anode' was improvised under the conditions that the twelve musicicans do not respond to each other, do not plot an obvious course and do not play regular rhythms or melodies. The ten and sixteen minute variations of "Anode 1" are as raucous and cacophanous as you might expect, but are also more uplifting and joyful than anything I've heard all year. Six percussionists skitter and tumble thunderously foot over head as sine waves wail, an empty turntable buzzes and electric guitar feedback sings dissonant voids. Sandwiched between are two calm and reflective realisations of the 'Anode' game, which nod to John Cage's aleatory composition. "Anode 2" is the calm after the storm, as slow random trickles bounce off each other in curious lines. It segues neatly into "Anode 3" on which Nishi Yoko's prepared 17-string koto looms into the foreground pursuing a more climactic feel. Familiar names from the Japanorama tour such as guitarist Sugimoto Taku, sine waver Sachiko M and percussionist Furuta Mari are on board, and in Liverpool a four player version of "Anode 1" was the highlight. Otomo Yoshihide has released a mind boggling number of CDs, usually of very high quality and originality but some more essential than others. Alongside the I.S.O. CDs, this is the most assured and fascinating he's sounded since the demise of Ground Zero in 1998. Half of it's Otomo and friends at their noisiest, and few kick up such a glorious racket.



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