The term ‘mood record’ is often criminally over-used, a critical shorthand for describing an ephemeral listening experience that might be difficult to articulate. Sometimes, even the most verbose of language fails in depicting a certain sound impression to a reader. The notes dance away from relatable grasp, lighter than air, an atmosphere evoked without being anchored in any tangible emotion.
Taskerlands, a collaboration between Michael Tanner of Plinth and David Colohan of United Bible Studies and Agitated Radio Pilot, is most definitely a mood record, but one that conjures up more than mere atmosphere. These two extended pieces for guitar and keys were apparently ‘recorded in an unlit Belfast attic during one of the coldest winters in years’, and that would be the impression one would surely gather, whether reading the background or not. These pieces practically breathe frozen fingers in shaking, gloved hands, breath fogging in darkened, chilled spaces of wood and rusted metal, the outside world awash in white and swirling gray. The season and the nature of the recording situation must have weighed heavily on how these improvisations turned out. Plinth often works in precise mechanics and in miniature, as in their series of acclaimed recordings made with Victorian musical machines. And while the guitar workouts here tend more towards the dusty, reverb-hazed psychedelica of Colohan’s Agitated Radio Pilot, there’s still a sense of minute precision here, of exactitude in every swell of mellotron and every carefully plucked note of chiming, echoing guitars.
I’ll admit that this album has grown close to my heart already, after only a half-dozen extended listens, for a number of reasons that relate to my own aesthetics and experiences. Mr. Tanner relates that this recording was made with badly-grounded equipment, and thus they had to embrace the inherent technological foul-ups while putting the pieces to tape. I live in a 102-year old home in Burlington, North Carolina, thousands miles of ocean from Belfast, but the principle is the same. Working with ungrounded outlets, I’ve become accustomed to ever-present technological challenges while recording or rehearsing, but I’ve embraced them to where they’ve become a part of my music’s sound-map. Similarly, Taskerlands is awash with such moments that only add to the dream-like, ethereal nature of the proceedings. I’m always pleased in some secret, mysterious when I’m reminded of the shortcomings of musical equipment in recordings, when their inherent errors become part of the work itself, and color it with unexpected shades and textures. It renders them almost human-like. Taskerlands is never overwhelming or precious with this unintended ‘happy accident’, but its presence only adds to the overall sensation of some ghostly aura hovering about the music, something balanced just at the periphery of the notes.
Ghostly is certainly the word for it. Taskerlands is named for the haunted mansion from the classic 70s BBC supernatural-thriller program The Stone Tape. In the story, a team of engineers working for a firm researching potential new recording devices set up in a long-abandoned manse, and discover that a ghost seems to be ‘recorded’ into the wall of a forgotten room. Their idle interest soon shifts to finding a way to generate an entire new recording medium, with expectedly macabre consequences. While the cutting edge technology of the time is somewhat antiquated now (and there is a certain amusement to the researchers discussing tape as the highlight of the recording technology of the time, viewed from this era of the iPod and the mp3), with tape’s rebirth as a fetish object of both experimental musicians and record-bin-scavengers alike, there’s a certain nostalgic poignance to films like The Stone Tape. Taskerlands is a most aptly-named collaboration, the product of sound scientists in an attic working with faulty technology, trying to discover something new that might turn out to haunt them. Collaborations are always a dicey venture, and can end in incompatibility and missed opportunities. In this case, Mr. Tanner and Mr. Colohan have made my favorite album of the year thus far, a masterpiece of mood and hues of raw emotion, and I can only hope they’re encouraged to continue their researches into the possibilities of sound. (Zachary Corsa)