Release Date: Jun 23, 2014
Record label: Border Community
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
It’s rare to have the opportunity to sit down with an artist before reviewing their new record. But in advance of the release of Wysing Forest by Luke Abbott, that’s exactly what I was lucky enough to be able to do. We talked through the recording process and what his intentions (or rather, lack of) had been when writing for his long-awaited new album.
There's always been a kind of sonic heat-stroke shimmering within Luke Abbott's best work. Woozy, burbling and unsteady beneath your feet, his music lulls you in but never lets you feel at ease. It's now been four years since the shifting, textural pastoralism of his debut album, Holkham Drones. Like that record, Abbott's second LP, Wysing Forest, explores the fuzzy harmonic soundscapes we've come to expect from Abbott.Abbott has said that Wysing Forest is indebted to the spiritual jazz of artists like Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry, and there is indeed an expansive and improvisational feel to the album that points to those forebears (alongside his longtime influences Cluster and Boards Of Canada).
Norwich producer Luke Abbott’s last album, 2010’s ‘Holkham Drones’, was a triumphant blend of psychedelia, electronica and acid house. ‘Wysing Forest’ on the other hand, has abandoned structured rhythms for an improvised approach, and sounds like krautrock legends Cluster trying to play ‘Druqks’ by Aphex Twin. Beginning with the ambient lament of ‘Two Degrees’, it builds through 12-minute noise-techno epic ‘Amphis’, ascends the icy peaks of ‘Free Migration’, pauses during the squeaking thrum of ‘Tree Spirit’, spasms in the static feedback of ‘Snippet’ and finishes with a slow, euphoric reprise of ‘Amphis’.
After a brief cameo on Gold Panda’s Notown label with the Modern Driveway EP, Luke Abbott returns to his spiritual home, James Holden’s Border Community, for second full length album Wysing Forest. His debut, Holkham Drones, released back in 2010, saw him take the distinctive left-field Border Community sound and sculpt it in his own image, with dreamlike melodies providing a carefree and poppy sound. In the time that has passed, Holden finally got his act together after seven years of radio silence and released The Inheritors, a krautrock-infused modular journey that reminded the world of his talent, and in a way laid down a very friendly gauntlet to his protégé Abbott.
Like the rural, middle-country escapes that it evokes, Luke Abbott's music derives part of its charm from the fact that, as a point of pride, it holds fast to older, more arduous methods of production. For Abbott, and for Border Community boss James Holden, this means an adherence to thorny analog synthesis, particularly the homespun, boutique world of modular synthesizers. The sound they've settled into—more motive than Boards of Canada, softer and more abstract than club music—redefines British pastoral music for the plugged-in and fuzzed-out.
Following the creeping success of his 2010 debut, Holkham Drones, Luke Abbott returns with a second album, named after the Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire, where he was musician-in-residence for six weeks in 2012. Originated from mainly improvised live recordings using boutique analogue synths, made in front of small audiences at Wysing or in the temporary studio Abbott assembled there, it has a homemade, rustic charm at odds with common preconceptions about electronic music. This performance element lends the album a fluent, openended character that is closer in spirit to free-jazz ensemble playing than programmed one-man electronic premeditation.
The title refers to the rural setting – an arts centre outside Cambridge – where Norfolk electronic musician Luke Abbott recorded the raw material for his second album. Much of it was drawn from live performance, which might account for a tendency to sprawl. Over 12 minutes long with an eight-minute reprise, the album's centrepiece, Amphis, seems at first undisciplined – Abbott goes heavy on the wibbling, warbling effects – but (very) gradually it builds into something epic and unexpectedly moving: it could be a pastoral companion-piece to Vangelis's Blade Runner theme.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Luke Abbott has some pretty respectable peers. Residing on James Holden's Border Community label along with Nathan Fake, he is part of a group of innovative and challenging British producers. Wysing Forest was the partly product of sessions at the remote Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridge and is easily discernible that it is an album that was created in solitude.
These days the cult of modular synthesis seems to claim a new victim every week. In the UK alone, Blawan and Untold recently disclosed their fetishes. Obviously, breaking free of DAW and vintage synth orthodoxies is to be applauded, but the yield can feel a bit uneven at times. In go thousand of pounds and countless hours of tinkering; out comes… well, in some cases, a self-indulgent mess.