The Assistant / Ina Bauer Trio / XAM Duo / The Hardy Tree

It’s funny and intriguing how synth-led musical constructions have come almost full circle in terms of credibility and creativity.  Having been both a vehicle for exploratory ambition as well as DIY minimalism from the late-‘60s to early-‘80s, only to be abused and maligned from the over-polished mid-‘80s to the Pro-Tooled ‘00s, things have come full-circle to an era where vintage electronic technology has been revived with warmth and invention.  Naturally, we may now have a tad too much of the stuff swelling the schedules of micro and small labels but there is certainly a satisfying spread of diversity to be found, as this following clutch of new releases attest.

The Assistant b/w Ina Bauer Trio

The Assistant b/w Ina Bauer Trio 7″

First up are two fresh artefacts featuring alias addict Oliver Cherer (Dollboy, Rhododendron, The Wrestler et al.).  One finds Cherer sustaining his adventures as The Assistant on a choice lathe-cut split-7” with Ina Bauer Trio, courtesy of the peerless Polytechnic Youth.  The Assistant’s voice-free “ZV10 Demonstration” is very much a darkly blissful continuation of the glowering Throbbing Gristle-meets-John Carpenter grooves of the “Gristleizer” b/w “Nothing On” 12″ from earlier this year, whilst Ina Bauer Trio’s vocal-piloted “Simple Observation” is a pulsating obsessional slice of minimal-wave that imagines a strangely fruitful collaboration between Piano Magic’s Glen Johnson and Gary Numan.

The Asistant - Anja And The Memory People

The Asistant – Anja And The Memory People

More abstract is The Assistant’s thinly-disguised sub-pseudonym offering as The Asistent (sic).  On an cassette/download package delivered via his own Horror Pop Sounds outlet we find Cherer unspooling a fictitious soundtrack to a “strange cult Czech TV show from the mid ‘70s” in the shape of the 30 or so minute Anja And The Memory People.  Stringing together interlinked passages of barely-there drones, prowling ‘80s horror film atmospherics, ‘70s TV sci-fi scores, balmy keyboard explorations redolent of Pink Floyd’s undervalued Richard Wright and smears of Eno’s Ambient series, this playfully obscure collection once again captures Cherer’s enviable mastery of his chameleon circuit.

 

XAM Duo - self-titled

XAM Duo – self-titled

Veering into far more expansive but no less imaginative realms is the impressive eponymous debut album from XAM Duo on Sonic Cathedral.  Originally an antiquarian synth-powered solo side-project for Matthew Benn of Hookworms – which yielded last year’s terrific kosmische-tinged Tone Systems EP on the discerning Deep Distance label – this new two-man variant, with the addition of Deadwall’s Christopher Duffin, has taken XAM into another dimension.  Meshing together modular synthesisers, miscellaneous keyboards and heavily-treated saxophones has birthed a sprawling yet adroitly structured double-album that breaks down and blurs the barriers between the electronic and ambient-jazz worlds.  Through the woozy prowl of “Proem” and the burbling bliss of “Pine Barrens”, inside the extraordinary epic immersions of “I Extend My Arms, Pt. I & II” and the dreamy yet foreboding drift of “Ashtanga”, across the murky strung-out disorientation of “The Test Dream” and via the fizzing rippling “René” the likes of Mountains, latter-day solo Sam Prekop, Pharaoh Sanders, Spacemen 3, Spectrum, Ornette Coleman, Tangerine Dream and Cluster are all recalled yet subtly stirred into a deeply absorbing intoxicating brew.  Not a record for the faint-hearted then but one which certainly casts a commanding spell.

 

The Hardy Tree - Through The Passages Of Time

The Hardy Tree – Through The Passages Of Time

Contrastingly, the new vinyl/download-only LP from The Hardy Tree is a more comforting bucolically-infused affair.  The audio produce of renowned illustrator and Clay Pipe Music label owner Frances Castle, Through The Passages Of Time is the much-belated sequel to 2010’s The Fields Lie Sleeping Underneath.  Whereas its partially song-based predecessor gently tapped into the missing links between Tunng, Four Tet and Freddie Phillips, with a greater use of acoustic instrumentation, delicate vocals and glitchy treatments, the virtually wordless Through The Passages Of Time is primarily driven by Moogs, mellotron, offbeat electronics and field recordings with a more confident self-contained cohesiveness.  A pyschogeographical concept set of sorts – paying homage to the forgotten old dark corners of London and its suburbs – Through The Passages Of Time is a deeply lovely and painterly suite. Channelling proceedings beautifully between nostalgic Vic Mars pastoralism (“Looking Down On London”), chiming gamelan interludes (“The Culvert”), celestial Wendy Carlos pirouetting (“The Peerless Pool”), disembodied found sounds mixed with baroque chamber-folk (“Newport Market”), haunted house twinkling (“Pepy’s Walk”), warbling soundscapes (“Sluice House Tavern”) and soothing echoes of Julianna Barwick’s ululating otherworldly vocal layering (“Harringay House”), Castle draws distinctive scenes that are as alluring and enigmatic as her acclaimed artwork.  An understated yet remarkable genre-bending pleasure in short.