In 2008 I was lucky enough to be put up for a night at the house of one of my musical heroes, Richard Adams from the band Hood. We discussed the music of his brother Chris, and Richard’s own finally-burgeoning solo career as The Declining Winter.
One of the things he mentioned being involved in was a new Leeds-based label called Home Assembly Music, a boutique label whose releases so far have included (bonus) remix CDs that give a real sense of a community to the label.
Fieldhead has a very close connection: it’s the solo project of Paul Elam, who also plays in the live (and now recorded) version of The Declining Winter. An EP of his music was given away with The Declining Winter’s Xmas remix CD in 2008, and I received some previews of this wonderful album from him in early 2009 after playing those tracks on Utility Fog.
Elam’s music is as enconsed in the now as any. He draws heavily from the expansive drones of Machinefabriek & Jasper TX (both of whom appear on the limited remix CD), and incorporates folktronic cut-up acoustic guitars & violin, but also the bass and off-beat tocks of dubstep and 2step. Even better, often all of these elements end up in the one song…
The beautifully-titled “this train is a rainbow” opens the album with a slowly-crescendoing mid-range drone, and half a minute in, a huge wave of bass and hiss hits. It’s not until halfway through the almost-4 minute track that the beat arrives, a loping 2step number, while the drone is disorientingly ducked against each hit of the bass or snare rim.
“document one”, conversely, starts with a nervous beat that stops every couple of bars – a familiar technique from dubstep, re-tooled for this context with a lush shimmering drone and dub-delayed acoustic guitar.
Meanwhile, “i’m fond of maps” takes a simple sub-bass line accompanied by white noise modulated to sound almost like brushed snares, and again overlays a gradually-crescendoing drone.
While these tracks are recontextualising dubstep’s beats & bass, others eschew the percussion altogether: “of october” uses two glitched-up acoustic guitar chords as its rhythm, under- and overlaid by crackling, rolling static. And album closer “introductions” follows Machinefabriek’s “one long crescendo” technique, growing over 5 of its 6 minutes to a gloriously distorted dénoument.
It’s tempting to draw comparisons (given the nature of Fieldhead’s beats) to Burial’s rain-soaked atmospheres, but Burial’s hauntological technique specifically references ’90s club music in generating its wash of nostalgia. Elam is probably borrowing directly from contemporary genres like dubstep, but is interested in the sound for its own sake rather than evoking ghosts of the past. He has created a remarkably consistent sound despite the disparate influences. It’s extremely effective and highly recommended.
The bonus remixes (a small quantity of which are still available at the time of writing) are less satisfying overall. In general they stay away from the beats, but don’t sustain or generate the same consistent level of interest or beauty as the album does. Jasper TX’s track is notable for its restraint – almost silent for over a minute, slowly revealing an echo-laden static fragment of the original track. Pausal has the advantage of remixing a non-album track, and especially in the second half’s echoing piano and slow shoegazey chords, he turns in one of the best tracks on this CD (and in keeping with the album’s feel despite sounding nothing like the original).
Even other highlights, like Yuri Lugovskoy’s burbling keyboard and crackle, or Seaworthy’s mysterious machine noise, tend to be static where the originals had shape. There are some bonuses on this CD, but the real drawcard is the album itself.