New music – Mark Peters feat. Dot Allison: Switch On The Sky

Some more good news from Sonic Cathedral. If you are a regular visitor to Arcana you will have seen our praise for the new Pye Corner Audio album Let’s Emerge, released on the label last Friday. Now we can bring confirmation of new music from Mark Peters, whose rather wonderful Innerland album provided a geographical record of his move back to Wigan in 2018.

The new album, Red Sunset Dreams, looks much further afield for its inspiration, casting longing eyes across the Atlantic in fact. It features contributions from pedal steel guitar legend B J Cole and vocalist Dot Allison, who sings on two tracks including the single released today, Switch on the Sky. They both appear as part of Peters’ fascination with the ambient side of country music, with Cole’s legendary steel guitar work becoming something of a healthy obsession.

The press release takes up the story, talking of ‘an incredibly evocative trip through the landscapes of old Western movies, exploring their links with the North West of England while touching on wider themes such as isolation, freedom and dementia. Sonically, it builds on the palette of the previous record with instrumentation equally inspired by the ascendant ambient Americana movement and classic country-rock. As a result it ends up somewhere between Acetone’s peerless I Guess I Would, Diamond Head-era Phil Manzanera and the dusty instrumentals on the second disc of David Sylvian’s 1986 classic Gone To Earth.

Switched On – Pye Corner Audio – Let’s Emerge! (Sonic Cathedral)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the first album from Pye Corner Audio – aka Martin Jenkins – for the Sonic Cathedral label. It is a wholly logical move, given the producer’s work with Ride guitarist Andy Bell on Social Dissonance, a live recording he made at a Sonic Cathedral night at The Social back in 2019.

It was the first meeting for the pair, and it ticked a lot of musical boxes which lead to the collaboration on this album, where Bell plays guitar on five of the ten tracks. The impetus for this long player is markedly different from Pye Corner Audio’s last in 2021, which was inspired by the underground fungal pathways where plants communicate. This one reaches for the sun, bathing in the summer heat – which makes its release into the middle of a UK heatwave all the more pertinent.

As a bonus, Let’s Emerge! is fronted by vibrant artwork from Marc Jones, consciously drawing on sleeves from LFO, Spaceman 3 and early Stereolab in his vivid colouring.

What’s the music like?

As warm as the cover suggests it should be. Jenkins’ slight adaptation of his music for Sonic Cathedral does indeed take it closer to ‘shoegaze’ if we are looking for a musical label, but it means the music he produces is full of rich colour and dreamlike possibility.

De-Hibernate acts as an awakening, introducing the big sonic backdrop with which Jenkins operates, but also showing how closer inspection reveals studied details in the work of Andy Bell. Broad brush chords from the keyboards, then, are complemented by more intricate guitar work, a blueprint that works extremely well as the album progresses.

The wash of sound on Lyracal confirms the temperature, bathing in consonant harmonies and shimmering textures, while Does It Go Dark shifts to lower pitched drones, its woozy outlines gradually revealing a chord progression of poise and power.

Haze Loops is a rich tapestry of warm sounds, more of a poolside chillout number, before some slightly smaller tracks link seamlessly together as part of a bigger suite. Let’s Emerge Part One breaks like a wave into the ears, retreating to the deeper colours of Saturation Point. Sun Stroke (so appropriate as I type this on the hottest day in UK history!) is thick with humidity, and then after the brief Let’s Emerge Part Two, Luminescence harnesses more rhythmic drive, synths bubbling just below the surface. Finally Warmth Of The Sun, the musical culmination of the album, brings the guitar to its greatest prominence yet, shimmering on the surface with fuzzy vocals and supportive percussion.

It says much that Andy Bell’s contributions are subtly integrated into the music. Not for him the posturing of a typical ‘featured guitarist’ – he gets the mood of Jenkins’ writing and adds his own subtleties to complement it, rather than going for standout melodies each time. It is to his enormous credit that the two work as equals and achieve something far more meaningful.

Does it all work?

It does. Music evokes time and place better than almost anything, and Let’s Emerge! certainly does that with its hot weather soundscapes.

Is it recommended?

Yes – a rather special addition to Martin Jenkins’ work until now as Pye Corner Audio, taking him in the direction of sunnier climes while reminding us of his capacity to evoke images and moods through his electronic music. Andy Bell’s guitar work is the icing on the cake.

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Switched On – XAM Duo: XAM Duo II (Sonic Cathedral)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

XAM Duo’s second album is a nifty half an hour. Christopher Duffin and Matthew Benn have been working on their second opus for nearly five years, and their efforts pay dividends as they arrive at a structure of six instrumentals that tell a story. Some are beat driven, others not – and all are part of an effort to write what the duo call ‘emotional computer music’.

Duffin has spoken of how the record ‘can be used in a functional way while setting out on your day, doing chores’ – and while it fulfils that function, XAM Duo II deserves more foreground listening for the reasons below.

What’s the music like?

Rather wonderful, and as Duffin hints, ideally structured for a single listen. From the off the colours achieved by the duo are warm and luxurious, with big synthesized textures you can dive into. The first track, the single Blue Comet, would work well as opening credits for a slightly retro TV series, with a probing melodic line. LGOC proves to be the ideal foil, creating a golden glow with its shimmering tones and high register saxophone.

The saxophone is a leading feature of the album, adding richness to the treble lines. Lifeguard At Mohang Beach is particularly attractive, holding still against the breaking waves, though the slight variations in pitch introduce a bit of uneasiness. Cold Stones has a wonderfully wide scope, with those fulsome sax tones above a cavernous drum sound. It is a majestic epilogue, a bigger structure that is beautifully scored.

Does it all work?

Yes – the rich colours are ideal for summer listening.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. If you have a weakness for the more melodic side of Warp Records’ output, to use an example, then XAM Duo will definitely do the job for you.

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