Phil Tomsett ~ Broken Memory Machine

Broken Memory MachineIt’s great to have Fluid Audio back in business after a short layoff.  Their physical products have always been creatively packaged, typically a collection of prints and flowers, and they smell lovely.  Their only drawback is their finite nature; one recent release was offered in a special edition of one.  Thankfully, the music is still the key aspect, and we live in the digital era, where notes and chords can travel around the globe in a moment’s notice.  “Chasing Cloud Shadows”, from Phil Tomsett‘s fascinating new release, even includes the sound of a passing plane; but perhaps this is no surprise, coming from the man also known as The Inventors of Aircraft.

Broken Memory Machine is an instrumental album with a stated concept:  “an orphaned brother and sister search for sanctuary on the roads of a broken British landscape”.  While the themes of yearning and wandering can be intuited in the music, they are made more apparent in Colette Saint Yves’ prints, which arrive in an order that may or may not be random.  Suffice it to say that a story can be told by arranging the cards into a perceived narrative: a dog and a fox feature strongly, while the climax appears to take place in the clouds.  Also included is a map, which may or may not lead to further clues.

contentsThis lack of explication actually aids the album, in that the point of instrumental music as it relates to narrative is that the listener creates the story.  This being said, there is still some information that can be gleaned from the music.  There is danger involved in this journey, represented by whorls of drone and tapping percussion.  Light field recordings reflect movement in the moors.  The greatest threats occur at the start (the synthesized sheets of “She’s Gone”, like falling bombs), while the greatest sadness occurs at the end (the descending glissando of “Parentless”).  The siblings struggle, yet stay together; they find companions along the way, represented by brighter chords and calmer passages.  In the end, no destination is reached; they seem destined to wander forever, living off the land, as if ghosts.

The sadness of strings graces the release with a mournful timbre.  This is never more apparent than in the finale of “The Long Quiet Highway”, which does in fact seem like a slow slog across the landscape, no hope – or humanity – in sight.  In “I dug this hole myself”, Tomsett draws a sonic line to an earlier work, “Malling Trees” (from Where the Light Stops); but where that track was nostalgic, the newer one is bleak.  The clouds break briefly on “Happiness Morning” and again on “Chasing Cloud Shadows”, but these interludes seem but tricks of the light.  If you happen to be traveling the roads near Lantivel Bay, and happen to spot two lost children, do pick them up ~ they’ve been traveling a very long time.  (Richard Allen)

One comment

  1. Pingback: ACL 2015: The Year’s Best Album Covers | a closer listen

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