James Vella returns with a companion piece to his 2020 album as A Lily, Sleep Through The Storm. Where that record was about loneliness and coming to terms with the challenges of the modern world, Nocturne Thunder is built as a more celebratory affair, dancing in the face of adversity. Its five tracks are linked, lasting around 25 minutes in all.
What’s the music like?
Ambient, but active at the same time. Vella’s music is full of primary musical colour, the dappled textures dancing on the surface as the opening track, Like Rising Smoke, takes shape. Its stately bass progression is offset by the figures up above which circle like birds in the half light. There are no drums, but still movement aplenty.
The mid and lower ranges take over for Unnatural Animals, which pulses with movement, driving forward more obviously even though still operating without the influence of a kick drum. This sonorous section promises deeper blues and more nocturnal activity, whereas To Seek Ecstasy In The Dawn brings us to the first light itself. The music gains a deeper and more obvious warmth, shimmering again in the heat haze.
Balafon Heart is an imperious sequence, beautifully judged as a slow bass and gradually shifting treble operate together, before Like A Hymn picks up momentum, light on its feet as we seem to take to the air. Consonant harmonic loops bounce off each other in Vella’s working.
The songs were built live by Vella, and it shows in their instinctive execution. His ear for structure is just right, knowing when to make the most of a mood and when to switch forwards to the next.
Does it all work?
It does. Ideally Nocturne Thunder should be experienced in one sitting, as it is effectively a short DJ set by one person on a bank of synthesizers. It is a descriptive and involving whole.
Is it recommended?
Yes – warmly so. If you have not yet heard Sleep Through The Storm then you should rectify that immediately, and by contrast if you are already familiar with Vella’s work then you will lap this one up too.
There is a sense that Andy Bell was pleasantly surprised by the success of Dissident, his first album as GLOK. Until then it seemed he was happy to let the project simmer beneath the surface, but as soon as that first album made its presence felt it gave him the confidence to spread his wings and spend more time in the studio.
Pattern Recognition builds on that success, taking the building blocks of Krautrock-influenced instrumentals and running with them, adding more nuances and possibilities. That means several vocal tracks for the first time.
The Bandcamp guide to the album reveals that it ‘has a loose thread which takes in a week of life, from weekend to weekend, with each of the vinyl’s four sides capturing different mind states across that transition. Each side has a distinct feel that’s different to the last but inherently cohesive – much like the changes an individual goes through over 7 days.’
What’s the music like?
Pattern Recognition has a greater breadth of styles than Dissident did, and now it has the vocalists to add extra depth and variety. The guests are all excellent, especially punk poet Sinead O’Brien on Maintaining the Machine, where her words dovetail beautifully with the GLOK synths and loping beats. Entanglement, featuring Chloé ‘C.A.R.’ Raunet, is cut from similar cloth, with more guitar in the mix and a really full, solid wall of sound to back it up.
Shamon Cassette is a brooding presence on the nocturnal Process, which bubbles atmospherically, while his wife Shiarra’s voice works really well against the pulsing figures and fat bass of That Time Of Night.
If you are already familiar with the music of Dissident you will appreciate the broad scope of the brilliantly named album opener Dirty Hugs. On it Bell gives himself nearly 20 minutes to unpack a throbbing groove in thrall to Krautrock and containing a lot of good things, which unwind at a really satisfying pace. It serves as a form guide for the rest of the album, as Pattern Recognition is a very substantial piece of work.
Closer nods a bit more to the techno of Mr Fingers in its square beat and bass line, but in contrast Memorial Device has an improvised piano line drifting past. Kintsugi is lovely, with its wide open sounds, while the woozy Day Three cuts to Invocation, where Bell’s sonic blender works a treat as part of a monotone and hypnotic groove, spun out again to more than 15 minutes as a track the listener can really immerse themselves in.
Two edits of Dirty Hugs and Closer complete an attractive bonus package.
Does it all work?
Yes, making it two out of two for Bell. Pattern Recognition does everything you would want from a follow-up to Dissident, and even accusations of it being too long would be brought up short. There is ample evidence of just how much Bell is enjoying his electronic incarnation, and the well-chosen vocal guests are the icing on the cake.
Is it recommended?
Heartily – as long as you already have the first installment of Bell’s GLOK incarnation!
David Edwards returns under his Minotaur Shock pseudonym with Qi, a six-part suite recorded on an Electron Digitone synthesizer. The idea of recording an extended set of pieces on a single piece of equipment seems to be catching on during lockdown, providing inspiration for a number of bedroom-based musicians, yours truly included!
What’s the music like?
Enjoyably instinctive. Edwards was very reluctant to go back to the tracks once recorded, delivering each in one or at most two takes. It means that the music-making is very much ‘in the moment’, and ensures the cells of melody that Minotaur Shock works with are kept fresh in their development.
As Qi unfolds it becomes clear that Edwards actually has an embarrassment of ideas, many of them flavoured with late 1980s and early 1990s techno and all of them linking together beautifully. The mood is friendly but on occasion heavier grooves punch in, so that tracks like Qat and QCD impress with their inventive breakbeats. The latter floats in on the wind like a set of chimes before some nice crossrhythms set up an unexpected but rather stately chorale.
Qui, the first track, shows how substantial these structures can become, leading to a swirling snowstorm of a loop where the keyboard carries all before it. Qis, the glittering closing section, and Qua are largely without percussion, but still have a natural rhythmic momentum.
Does it all work?
Yes. Edwards keeps things moving, nothing outstays its welcome, and the rich well of melodic inspiration continually pushes out new ideas.
Is it recommended?
Heartily. Minotaur Shock is very much on form here, with a warm-hearted half hour of electronic invention to enjoy.
This time last year Ride fans – and electronic music devotees – were both surprised and delighted at the appearance of GLOK, the self-titled instrumental album from the band’s guitarist Andy Bell. Bell had kept his electronic alias relatively under wraps until then, but he revealed himself as an accomplished producer harnessing the influence of Krautrock into some strong, beat-laden grooves.
With a talent for expanding his music to fill bigger structures, Bell also recognised the flexibility of his recordings for the remix treatment – which is what we have here. His enviable contact book has resulted in remixes from a number of sources including James Chapman (Maps), Richard Sen and the late Andrew Weatherall with one of his last studio contributions.
What’s the music like?
Remix albums can be substandard affairs and stopgaps when an artist’s inspiration is running dry, but there is no danger of any of that happening here.
Franz Kirmann impresses greatly with his two versions of Kolokol. The first has added squiggles and a dogged beat that presses all the right buttons, while the second has murkier textures and a stripped back, dubby beat. Timothy Clerkin delivers a remix of Projected Sounds with head nodding goodness, while Andrew Weatherall‘s mix of Cloud Cover is underpinned by characteristically dark bass line and fluttering atmospherics.
On the downtempo side of things there is a nice, woozy take on Weaver from C.A.R., and a lovely hazy dub version of Exit Through The Skylight from Jay Glass, with rich instrumental colours. Bell himself turns in a brilliant extended version of Pulsing. Stretched out to 15 minutes, the track turns subtly from a laid back, dub-inflected tread to a dreamy breakdown in the middle, before extra bleeps and bass are introduced.
One of the most striking inventions comes from Minotaur Shock, bringing analogue beats and warm synth colours to Weaver, twisting and turning the source material. It is immediately complemented by another excellent remix of Pulsing, this time from Maps – James Chapman reaching for the stars with a typically wide panorama.
Does it all work?
Yes. It works as a remix album should, building on the original and bringing out different elements of Bell’s music. The variety of talent on show is laid out in an appealing structure, using his acumen to craft another album that has an ideal ebb and flow.
Is it recommended?
Very much so. GLOK Remixed emerges as a companion to put alongside the original, showing off the flexibility of its source material and making some really excellent, alternative grooves from it. With Bell’s debut solo album as a vocalist coming up soon, there is much to enjoy from him this year!
As Arcana discovered only the other week, Andy Bell is a musician with several strings to his bow. Many will know him as a founder member of Ride, the Oxford group popular in the early 1990s and enjoying a creative renaissance capped by new album This Is Not A Safe Place, released as this interview is being written. Others will recognise the Ride genesis but think of Bell more as a sometime member of Oasis – where he played bass guitar – and Beady Eye. Add to that Bell’s time as front man for Hurricane #1, at peak Britpop in the late 1990s, and you have a pretty formidable indie discography.
As it turns out, this is only part of the story, for Andy also makes music in a solo capacity, under the name of GLOK. Here the keyboards take over, and a love of Krautrock and other weird and wonderful electronica becomes clearer – as does the sense that here Bell is really able to indulge his full portfolio of styles.
Last week we had the chance to talk all things GLOK – and to ask Bell that now he’s been ‘outed’ if he intends to make it a more full time piece of work.
Arcana: When you started making music as GLOK, was it your intention to keep it private?
Andy Bell: Originally I was using the name to hide behind. I didn’t want people’s first experience of hearing it to be tied to a mental image of me, or what they thought I stood for. A side effect of this was that the tracks barely got noticed, or at least it felt that way. But in a way that was what I wanted. Dissident got added to a pretty big Spotify playlist and that was cool. But after that none of the other tracks did much.
At the time the tracks were signed to a label called Globe. This was a couple of years ago. I’m still signed to Globe, myself, as a composer, that’s the nature of that deal. GLOK was just one way of getting music out into the world really, but after a couple of years, the tracks were basically sitting dormant on iTunes and Spotify, until I got a call from Bytes about doing a physical release. There were 5 tunes out at the time, from a group of around 10 or so GLOK tunes which I’d made and had mastered for Globe. By that time it was no longer a secret that GLOK was me, I’d done a few remixes under that name including one for Ride. When Bytes got in touch Joe Clay told me that he loved Pulsing way before he knew it was me, which was really cool to hear.
When did you start to realise the potential of making your own music with synthesizers?
I bought a Yamaha CS-5 after Dave Sitek had used one in the studio with Beady Eye. That was because I saw how easy it was to use and what great sounds you could get with it, especially using it with guitar pedals. Dave had brought over a ton of gear with him to London and I ended up getting a lot of things he turned me on to, for example that was the first time I came into contact with the Eventide Space Reverb, which for me now is like a member of my family or something. It gradually spread from there. I got a Roland SH 101 and a couple of things from the Critter and Guitari range, a little bit of modular, apps on the iPad like the mellotron etc. Initially I was buying this stuff to augment the sound of songs that were still in guitar world. The catalyst for me to start to get my head into actually making electronic music was kind of a side effect of the Music recording software Logic going from version 9 to version X.
I had been using Logic 9 – by trial and error, after Jeff Wootton showed me the ropes. Jeff was horrified that I was making demo’s on Garage Band! He was like “You’re using kids’ software man. Here’s the grown-up Garage Band, you need to be using this”. So then I was stumbling around inside Logic 9 but able to get ideas down. Then 9 kind of became obsolete and the next version, X, was totally different. I was completely lost by it so signed up to learn Logic X at a place called Sub Bass Academy, near Waterloo. I spent six months inside Logic X and it was amazing. The course started with sampling and went from there. As soon as I learned to use the onboard sampler I was away. Just like when I learned the guitar, I started off re-making tracks I liked (Mr Fingers‘ Can You Feel It, Underworld Rez, and A Guy Called Gerald‘s Voodoo Ray) and then moved on to coming up with my own stuff. And I was getting help from them along the way. So basically after that six months, I was OK at sampling, synthesis, all the stuff I’d been getting interested in but didn’t really know. Logic became the way I made demos, and therefore, a lot of the time, the way I wrote songs.
Was it a leisure activity to start with, or did you always see a single / album release as part of it?
Leisure, for sure. I don’t feel like I have an actual ‘job’ ever, except maybe when I’m doing promotional stuff. It built up into quite a collection of music over a year or two, and then through conversations with Marc Robinson at Globe, he told me he’d like to put some of the tracks out. It wasn’t envisaged as a conventional album at the time. I think they did one track a month, for five months. But I kept on making GLOK tracks long after Globe stopped putting them out. OK, so most of them are half finished, but so were the first seven until Marc gave me a deadline!
Fully electronic music has become something I do equally as prolifically as guitar songs, and it’s never something which I start with a release, or even an end product in mind. What it comes down to, is I would much rather start a track than finish one. I’m lazy and on any given day I’ll just start about five ideas, name them, and forget about them. They could be electronic or guitar-y. I’m always finding tracks that I have zero memory of making. I love that. Some of them are even half decent.
Was it enjoyable keeping GLOK a secret, and has your approach to it changed at all now it’s out in the open?
Maybe I didn’t need to use another name at all, but that just made me more comfortable with it at the time. Nothing has changed about the way I make music since then.
What other music using synthesizers / keyboards do you admire?
Everything from The Beatles onwards and outwards. Psychedelia and Krautrock opened rock music up in the ‘60s and ‘70s and from that point there’s no huge need to categorise. But if we are talking pure electronic music, then for me the biggest influence is Mr Fingers. I love the home made feel of his records. There’s a direct line there to Voodoo Ray which is another of my favourites, I bought that on 12” when it came out. Recently I’ve heard Harald Grosskopf – he’s an artist I think I’m going to really love. But my taste is pretty broad and I think I’m not that unusual in that respect. That’s how people listen now I think.
How did you get to writing much longer pieces like Dissident, and when did you realise you could write much more substantial tracks while keeping the interest high?
Dissident was almost that long right from the first demo. I’d set up an arpeggiator and started playing chords over it with a softsynth, and in essence the track hasn’t changed that much since then. I hadn’t realised how long it was, I was just noodling around with it. I think the first version was about 12 minutes, and I repeated a couple of sections along the way, and it ended up around 20, which feels like its natural length.
Have you ever considered writing in a more classical form – and has classical played any part in your musical development so far?
I have never had any interest in classical music, but Loz Colbert did get me into Minimalism, which I think had a lot of influence in the rock world, that’s something I’d never heard about, and it blew my mind when I started connecting the dots. Steve Reich is the man, and I especially like Come Out and Piano Phase. Phases and Music for Eighteen Musicians are two albums of his I play a lot the whole way through. I’ve also been to see two Philip Glass operas, Satyagraha and Akhnaten – they are incredible. A couple of hours passes in what seems like 15 minutes! I’m still waiting for a chance to check out Einstein On The Beach.
Do you think you’d like to take GLOK out as a live concern?
Yes, I’d like to but I have no idea how it would work. There’s a lot of scope for what a GLOK live thing could be, from a DJ set with bells on, all the way to a full live band. I don’t think it is going to happen anytime soon. I’m about to go around the world with Ride.
In terms of songwriting, how would you summarise the contributions you’ve made as a band member to Ride, Hurricane #1, Oasis and Beady Eye?
All those songs, even the GLOK ones, all come from the same source. There’s no rule as to the end point, whatever the starting point has been. I am quite instinctive and I don’t always know when I’ve written a really good, or really bad song. I’ve put out a few of both. It’s hard to tell at the time, weirdly. I know when a song feels special to me, but often those particular songs don’t mean much to anybody else. The ones people really like are normally the ones that took the shortest time to write. Those ones can feel quite throwaway to me until time passes and I can look back and see where the quality really was. I think it’s normal to associate effort with quality but it’s not always that way at all.
On the new Ride album (the band photographed above), the approach allows for more electronics. Was that your input?
No, not at all. I use bits and pieces in places. But I think Steve Queralt is the one whose demos are the most full of synths. When Erol Alkan came on board, I felt the door was open for us to make a fully electronic album. It’s still open. It would be cool to do. But Erol plugged into the band element. I think that was the braver move in the circumstances, and the better one for the big picture of the band.
It must be gratifying to see how Ride have developed over the years.
It’s great, it still feels like we have so much to do. I just mentioned an electronic Ride album. But a full on, “Daydream Nation” kind of Ride album is something I think we could do. I think that could be incredible. To go in and just turn up the guitars, jam out on open tunings, do some real long freeform songs, make like a mid 70’s Neil Young or late 80’s Sonic Youth album, would be fantastic.
What are your plans for the rest of the year – and do you have many beyond that?
The Ride tour will take us through into the middle of next year. But alongside that there are various other things I’ve been working on. GLOK is one of them, but there are a few other things in the pipeline as well.
Finally, could you select a Ride song (or any other) that you’ve had a big hand in that you’re particularly satisfied with?
Cool Your Boots is one of my all time favourite Ride records, mainly because of the last two minutes.
The Glok album Dissident is out now on Bytes…while the new Ride album This Is Not A Safe Place is newly available on Wichita Recordings. Both can be heard below on Spotify: