Switched On – Luke Abbott: Translate (Border Community)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This may be Luke Abbott’s first album in six years, but as regular followers of the Norfolk-based musician will know, he has been extremely busy in that time, forming the widely acclaimed Szun Waves with Jack Wyllie and Laurence Pike.

For this album Abbott changed his recording habits, decamping to friend and Border Community head James Holden’s London studio for the sessions. He sat in the centre of the studio with eight speakers around, but had an additional receiver in the corridor to catch passing sounds on the industrial estate where the studio is located.

What’s the music like?

Richly rewarding. As listeners to previous long players Holkham Drones and Wysing Forest will know, Abbott has a deep knowledge of synthesizers and orchestrating their sounds, and that skill runs throughout Translate to extremely good effect. Kagen Sound – a track celebrating the puzzle box – is a really strong start, a majestic track with some wonderful analogue tones.

Earthship feels like the workings of a great big machine lumbering into action, while the way the melodic lines intertwine on Our Scene is really clever. The mellow Roses may be brief but it shows how Abbott can harness the different tones of his instruments, coming as it does after the ripple effects of Ames Window, a really substantial piece of work.

To his immense credit Abbott puts a great deal into his rhythm section, very rarely using a basic four to the floor pattern and often using, in tracks like Living Dust, intriguing syncopations that lean the main beats anywhere he chooses. Finally Luna and August Prism close out the album in kaleidoscopic colour.

Does it all work?

Yes. Abbott is meticulous with his planning and quality control, and the production with James Holden has led to a nice air of spontaneity in his work. The sounds are to die for as well.

Is it recommended?

Yes. A study in instrumental colour and rhythmic intrigue, Translate is an album that handsomely repays repeated listening.

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What’s coming up on Arcana in 2016?

satie

Caricature du Maître d’Arcueil, Erik Satie

A question. What do Janet Jackson, Steve Hackett, Gary Numan and Cesar dog food have in common?

I’ll let you ponder the answer while setting out what Arcana has planned for some of 2016! We’ve already wished you a happy new year but having survived the first week back this is a great chance to let you know what we have planned for the year ahead.

We plan to make much more of the links between classical and pop music this year – so you can expect further episodes of The Borrowers (which already includes Manfred Mann, Plan B, Village People and Greg Lake), interviews with artists who like to work in both areas of music, and reviews of albums that appeal to both sides.

These will include the forthcoming James Holden and Luke Abbott album, a homage to Terry Riley – and we might even delve into the daunting prospect of Rick Wakeman and Alice Cooper celebrating the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, with large orchestra in tow! There is so much variety and depth in this area to explore. We also hope to hear from the artists themselves, whether electronic, prog, jazz or ‘other’.

shining

Arcana will also be training the spotlight on two composers who have been a big influence on pop music, albeit in very different ways. 2016 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Erik Satie, and we will explore his influence on pop music from several directions. A good contrast to Satie’s music can be found in the work of Hungarian composer Béla Bartók – famously used by Stanley Kubrick in part of The Shining (above). Arcana aims to show the breadth of his writing, as well as illustrating how rock music can be said to trace back through his work. Kicking off, Richard Whitehouse will be covering James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong playing Bartók in a concert from the Wigmore Hall tonight.

All that and the usual concert and new recording reviews…showing there is an awful lot to enjoy musically this year. Please do stick around for the ride! And the answer to the question? They’ve all used the music of Erik Satie! We’ll tell you how in due course…but for now we will leave you with his most popular piece: