The duo’s name says it all ~ Watch Repair sounds like loose copper wheels, backward-ticking hands and an old repairman tinkering in the gears. The timely art (John Coulthart) returns The Polarities to the visual theme of debut Stopped Clock Chimes and its follow-up, Watch Repair, beginning with ticks and clicks and proceeding to wind its way through a series of rustles and plucks. The guitar is the most obvious instrument, but a host of others are listed, including “glasswork, wires, rattles, knocks and other percussives”.
This is a patient album: not of obvious songs, but an avid bifocal concentration. Occasionally an old LP is sampled (“Karlukian Frequencies”), and suddenly there is melody, structure, light: a distraction to the lonely repairman, stealing a temporary gaze out the window before returning to his project. When other sources enter ~ for example, a bleep on the subsequent track ~ one wonders at the nod to accessibility, however small. But for the most part, the set offers delicate drafts and careful constructions, content to let the listeners fill in the blanks.
For clock and watch fans, eager to discern any hint of their favorite sources, the go-to pieces are the separate parts of “Counterspace”, the chimes up front and center, wobbly yet unbowed. A dark bass enters toward the end of the second piece, form coalescing into shape. In subsequent tracks, things start to wind down, the attempt at repair thwarted by a clog in the gears, a rusty sprocket, a muted clapper. But if it were repaired, would it sound so alluring?
Bonus track Karluk is a fascinating mix that travels from Easter Sunday to a disaster on the ice, the captain bidding farewell to his crew before going down with the ship. The mix recalls Vaughan Williams’ Antarctic Symphony, especially given its use of samples, some nearly a century old. Music boxes play a sad elegy; symphonies surge; ice floes bend the hull of the ship. Even The Thing gets a portion of the mix, folded into a Watch Repair track. This is an extremely dramatic piece, all the more surprising given its distance from the subtleties of the main album. Together, these two occupy the polarities mentioned in the title. The only problem ~ and it’s a good one ~ is that the mix is so good, and so immediate, that it makes us yearn for even more works of its ilk. When Watch Repair stops being subtle and starts being scary, we sit bolt upright. Instead of passing slowly, time freezes in its tracks, until the crisis is over and the repairman returns reluctantly to his bench. (Richard Allen)