Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Ragsdale’

Front & Follow

Christopher Nosnibor

The demise of the label Front & Follow was a sad one, for many reasons. I mean, it was understandable: a one-man enterprise, the degree of effort required to curate, release, and promote music – especially obscure, niche music – is astounding. It’s always going to be a labour of love, but all the love in the world doesn’t pay the bills.

This does mean that the return of F&F, however brief, with a view to issuing a series of lockdown / isolation compilations is extremely welcome, simply in principle. Not only because it’s a reminder of a time before what’s rapidly looking like a collapse of civilisation, not only because it’s a reminder of what a great label it was, but also because despite the tidal wave of lockdown releases that are flooding the virtual world right now, we still need more music like this: music from the fringes, music that coveys the intense cognitive dissonance of the current situation in non-lyrical terms.

To unpack this: the title summarises the situation as it stands for many in the most succinct form. Whether or not you’re officially ‘isolating’, we’re all still isolated for the most part, either alone or with the rest of out household. But it seems that however ‘together’ we are, however connected, however well we communicate, everyone’s individual experience is different, and in many was incommunicable: we’re all islands, isolating inside our own heads. Words get in the way, and impose the experience of others on our own private thoughts, so the fact that this collection is largely instrumental is welcome, and where there are vocals, they tend to be absorbed into the fabric of the sonic experience.

With twenty contributions from a host of artists. Many of whom I’m unfamiliar with, there’s a theoretical pot-luck element to this compilation, but F&F have always been strong on curatorial skills, and while the contribution from Kemper Norton (arguably one of the bigger ‘names’ on the release) is surprisingly brief, it’s positioned in a prominent position opening proceedings, and sets the tone with its tonally-balanced ambience.

Grey Frequency’s ‘Dissolve’ which follows is more what you might expect: almost seven minutes of mellifluous mellowness, but with crackling snippets of static and shadowy undercurrents that run dark and deep.

Picking standout tracks is difficult and also rather to undermine the project, although

‘Basic Design’s ‘Dream Archipelago’ does stand out by virtue of having vocals first and foremost, but also for it’s woozy, fugue-like qualities, something echoed by the ethereal ‘Dining with Phineus’ by Carya Amara.

AZAK BROMIDE bring a more power electronics / industrial slant to the dark ambient party, but it’s the seventeen-minute behemoth that is Boobs of Doom’s ‘Scumbellina’ that really is the ineffable centrepiece here: a towering monolith of a track it’s all the experimental electronica distilled into a single movement of analogue oddness.

Elsewhere, Ekoplex capture the essence of early cabaret Voltaire on the dubby ‘Rejected Replekz’, Thomas Ragsdale delivers some signature ambience with beats with ‘The Light Between’, and Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s ‘Waking Up With a Cat on My Face’ perfectly encapsulates that moment or panic, that abject spasm through a minute and three quarters of swampy discord and sonic confusion. Hibernation’s nine-minute ‘Fragile Times’ is a perfect summary of everything: so fragile and soft as to be barely-present, it’s a mist-like ambient piece that’s impossible to place your hands on it, much less pin it down, and that wisp-like intangibility, that vague ephemerality is the essence of the collective mind right now. However you may think about think about it, whatever your beliefs, pinning down the mood of the moment is nigh on impossible on the tumultuous psychological rollercoaster we find ourselves on.

Thankfully, soothing, spacious sonic wanderings like the album’s final contribution, TVO’s ‘A Wave as the Coast Disappears from View’ offer id to calm, even if the title reminds us we’re only barely afloat and only so far from drowning in an instant.

Isolation & Rejection Vol 1 is a magnificent collection at any time, but also serves as a contemplative soundtrack to strange and troubling times. It’s also classic F&F.

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Burning Witches Records – 20th February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

No, it’s not a reference to the movie. A revenant is ‘a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.’ It’s a fitting title for the Yorkshire duo’s fourth full-length album: having disappeared, mutating into Ghosting Season and perusing solo projects following their initial flurry of EPs and debut album. It was six years before they would return with Even Temper in 2015, and since then, they’ve maintained a pretty strong work-rate. But, not so healthy as to feel like their output is a constant spate, and as such, a new album still feels like an event.

The write-up says that Revenant ‘marks a slight departure from their previous album, the critically acclaimed Blank Tape, by venturing into more synthesiser heavy pieces, based around dark, brooding atmospheres and switching from the bouncing arpeggios and slow, hypnotic rhythms of 10 minute album opener ‘Skylon’, to the jittering, cinematic rush of ‘Making Your Masks’’.

Revenant in fact begins with a brief introductory passage in the form of the soft-focus, minimal, and haunting ‘Hawk’ with muffled, distant voices echoing over almost subliminally-hushed droning notes, before the aforementioned ‘Skylon’, which inches its way in discreetly with subtle rippling rhythms and slowly building layers and textures. It’s a semi-ambient opus that carries heavy shades of Krautrock: the beats are s backed off as to be non-existent, but the pulsating notes coalesce to a steady, insistent rhythm.

Both the shoegazey, post-rock guitars and glitchy, flickering beats that characterise so much of their work, are largely left in the background and are sometimes virtually absent. Revenant is extremely subtle, low-key, and favours muted hues and abstract shades.

‘Strax’ is propelled by a flickering heartbeat, while the wispy contrails of ‘Making Your Masks’ are underpinned with a slow, deliberate beat and definite notes, and it marks the beginning of a closing sequence which sees a growing solidity of form, segueing into closer ‘Wasteland’, which is more overtly structured, beat-driven. The effect is like swirling mists solidifying, a phantom taking corporeal form.

Revenant is very much an album: a beginning-to-end experience. What it lacks in immediacy, it more than delivers in detail: the attention to subtle forms and also the overarching structure is impressive, but, one also feels somehow intuitive. There’s something special and unique about the interplay between Thomas Ragsdale and Gavin Miller, and it’s this which has always made worriedaboutsatan an act without peers, an act who effortlessly amalgamate styles and forms to create a space outside of time-frame and genre. Rarefied and refined, Revenant represents another step in the evolution of worriedaboutsatan, without denting the arc of their developmental trajectory.

AA

WAS - Revenant

Soundtracking the Void – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Collectively and individually, Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale (worriedaboutsatan, Ghosting Season) have produced an impressive volume of work – although perhaps even more impressive than its quantity is the consistency of the quality. They’ve always been something of a yin/yang pairing, and the individual differences are integral to their collaborative works. So, while Ragsdale tends to bring the beats and beefy bass, Miller is the man who contributes wistful soundscapes and delicate atmospherics. The fact they’ve released solo efforts within a few short weeks of one another not only highlights their productivity, but affords the opportunity to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of their musical approaches.

Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 marks not only the first in a prospective series, but something of a departure, being almost entirely beat-free (there’s a distant clattering on ‘Pick Up Sticks’ but it’s almost buried by the sonar bass frequencies), and adopting from the outset a soft, piano-led sound and an elegiac tone.

In contrast to Gavin Miller’s near-simultaneous solo release, Shimmer, Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 is a much more overtly ambient work: the electroacoustic elements are filtered by synthesis, so while Miller’s ambience contains elements of shoegaze right at the fore, Ragsdale takes abstraction as his form, and runs with it. Many of his signature elements are in evidence: layered electronics, strings, and field recordings are all carefully interlaced to forge a sonic cloth as delicate and intricate as lace. However, the vocal samples lifted from film and radio which can be found in abundance on other recordings and in his live set, are as conspicuous by their absence as the beats.

In abstraction lies evocation: with so little overt or explicit signposting, the listener’s mind wanders free through the intangible forms. Without any temporal location in sonic terms, it’s left to the lister to fill in the gaps of space and time. But the titles of the compositions are referential, with several making direct reference to nursery rhymes – ‘Pick Up Sticks’ and ‘Four and Twenty’, for example. They remind us that so many of these rhymes have a darker undercurrent. Elsewhere, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ lifts its title directly from The Shirelles’ 1960s hit. Sonically, there’s no relation, but again, the sentiment of the title connotes a certain sadness, even anxiety: vintage pop lyrics, too, often cast shades of darkness when you scratch the surface and wipe away the bubblegum delivery. And it’s creeping darkness that pervades the slow, deliberate sonic expanses of the more dolorous passages of this album, of which there are many.

And so Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 provides the conduit for the listener to engage with their own interiority, exploring at leisure and from a distance, the images and scenes conjured by the mind’s eye in response to the sonic provocations. There’s something disquieting and disorientating about Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 – an album you feel first, and hear some time later.

AA

Thomas Ragsdale - Honley

This is it Forever – 12th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Ok, I’m biased. Thomas Ragsdale’s work as one half of worriedaboutsatan and Ghosting Season has enthused me for over a decade now, and his solo work, too, has consistently mesmerised and enthralled me. This isn’t just journo gush: his work is rich and immersive and simply never disappoints. His latest offering, the three-track ‘Under Dwellers’ EP is no exception.

The BandCamp blurb describes it as ‘Three pieces of music paying tribute to the world beneath our own’, and goes on to describe how ‘Acid lines are fed through tape echo and back into a reel to reel machine… Randomised synth arps clatter around unpredictably inside a distortion unit… Crumbling piano melodies faintly cry out over the hiss and hum of modern circuits… Sounds made by a human, but with no control. Music for beneath the grit and surface of our modern world’.

Ragsdale translates all of these things into something more than pitch, more than process jargon, and presents a set of atmospheric, semi-ambient compositions, rich in tone and texture, and which utterly envelop the listener.

There is little point in detailing either the structure or sound of the individual pieces, or much else for that matter. Dark clouds drift and scrape, twist and turn and swell to fill the air. Yet There is depth, and above all a certain intangible grip and pull here. One listens. One reacts. One feels it, somehow, subliminally, a head-tingling, gut-pulling soundwork.

AA

Thomas Ragsdale - Under Dwellers