Switched On – John Foxx: The Arcades Project (Metamatic)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Anyone closely following the career of John Foxx over the last ten years will have been fascinated by his powers of invention. He is a rejuvenated musical presence, prolific in disciplines that include (but are not restricted to) electronic pop, broad musical ambience with substance, short stories (The Quiet Man, published by Essential Works in 2020) and now a first foray into the world of the solo piano.

Given his previous musical exploits, the only surprise here is that Foxx hasn’t done it before – but the time taken to enter such a crowded field is understandable. The Arcades Project takes its lead from a text by Walter Benjamin that Foxx read at art school in the 1960s, but which mysteriously disappeared from circulation until the internet made it available.

Foxx describes the book as “a sort of stroll through new ideas emerging from the city life of Paris in the 19th and early 20th century. It was also concerned with what the French poet Baudelaire had termed flâneurism. The flâneur enjoys walking randomly, drifting with the tides on the streets, taking great pleasure in a dreamlike state of coincidentalism – being open to all the unfolding daily events of a great modern city.”

What’s the music like?

The description of the book could also be levelled at the music John Foxx writes in response. For here is a true meander, the artist enjoying a slow pace in spite of the busy streets around him, operating at a much slower tempo.

That sensation comes through to the listener, should they walk with this music – which is a highly effective way to hear it. Somehow Foxx’s imprints are immediately recognisable. The restraint with which he uses the piano is commendable, but so is the manner in which its contributions are shaded, with reverb added to soften the sound and give it depth, without ever obscuring the melodic phrases.

A Formal Arrangement has a simple construction but is a thoughtful piece of music, while Floral Arithmetic sets off on a starry path, a single right hand phrase like a shooting star tracing across the sky. Daylight Ghost is not as eerie as you might expect; rather its airiness has an air of mystery behind it. In All Your Glory takes a sharper tone, securing a brighter colour, which ebbs on the softer hue of the mellow Last Golden Light.

Momentary Paris, through its title, conjures dreamy impressions of back streets and unexpectedly quiet reveries, away from the rushing traffic. Forgotten In Manhattan, meanwhile, has a penetrating piano sound with graceful wisps of accompaniment, very much in Foxx’s own distinctive style.

The Sea Inside is one of the more expansive pieces in the collection, and also the warmest, its blue waters inviting relaxation. Lovers And Strangers goes deeper still with a wistful melody, while Starlit Summer Night evokes the sort of sky Vincent Van Gogh would have been painting, taking the profile of a Satie piece but adding a roomy backdrop to the action close at hand.

Coincidentalism is a beauty, very much a case of less is more as each note is sustained across the musical sky, coming down to earth at the consonant close. This Evening needs even less on the note count to make its point, capturing the shutdown of the mind at this point in the day.

Does it all work?

It does, in a very unhurried sense. First time listeners to this area of John Foxx’s style may think there is not much going on, but as the album unfolds it is clear – as with all of his ambient music – that less is most definitely more.

Is it recommended?

Yes. This is another of John Foxx’s ambient works that hits the spot but remains slightly elusive in just how it does so. The piano is a very sympathetic vehicle for his music, and we will hopefully see further inspiration from this source.



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