Caught by the River


Ian Preece | 18th September 2015

Simon Scott, Insomni (Ash International/Touch)
Review by Ian Preece

One of the absolute beauties of 2015 is James Blackshaw’s Summoning Sons LP. There was a time back in the spring/early summer when I couldn’t get through a day without a quick shot of its easy, jazzy vibe, its slightly shambling insouciance, all propelled along with some feathery drums and a not inconsiderable dose of wistfulness. Rummaging around online, checking half-remembered facts about Simon Scott, his Slowdive days, and his more recent albums constructed from ‘found sounds’, I just had a fine serendipitous moment: the drummer for Summoning Sons is none other than the former Slowdive sticks-man himself. I caught the reformed Slowdive at the Forum in Kentish Town last Christmas: it was a fine assault on the senses, real tube-clearing stuff, and the crowd (full of the expected fortysomethings, but also plenty of youngsters) loved it. But . . . well, it’s not 1994 any more, and these days I spend a lot of time listening to records that are almost barely there: the muffled voices and birdsong of ‘Berwick Street at Dawn’ and the plaintive call of the Coryton Refinery Siren on Canvey Island from Ian Rawes’s superb London Sound Survey LP; Thomas Köner’s recordings of ghostly voices late at night in Barcelona, or the ice sheet cracking deep down in the Arctic; the pastoral melancholy of sepia-toned releases on the excellent Wist Rec label from Ireland – a lengthy soundtrack to Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside, or the elegiac ode to rising sea levels, The Changing Tide, by the Laborer; Philip Jeck’s vinyl requiems; sounds from the Caretaker’s dusty ballroom. Don’t get me wrong, there’ll always be a time and a place to stick on ‘Loose’ from Fun House – or even ‘Souvlaki Space Station’, or ‘Confetti’ from Summoning Sons – but I also wonder if rock and roll one day won’t seem just a bit, you know, forced, and as contrived and somewhat ludicrous as music hall.

I’m sure Simon Scott has travelled even further down this overgrown path. For those late to the party (like me) his last record, Below Sea Level, is a submerged wonder, put together from recordings made in the Fens between 2010 and 2012. His new album, Insomni – inspired by ‘a nocturnal foraging for sound’, the hum of the fridge and the fish tank – does have a track-listing of sorts, but is meant to be experienced as one 42-minute piece. Stick your head into the speaker as it gets going and it’s possible to pick up what sounds like the stuck glitching, the distressed CD clicks of an old Oval or Microstoria record; within three or four minutes the needle is in the red but the distortion (as with Slowdive) is never less than bliss(tering); by 7 minutes in, birds are chirping as a guitar is gently strummed, the delay delicately folded in with the wash of a stream and sounds possibly sourced from a river bank in the Fens. Midway through, ‘Ternal’ seems to herald a darker third movement – there’s what sounds like the hum of a light aircraft engine; sparks from a blow torch – but then a lovely guitar figure bursts through the foliage: the sun is up, morning is almost here, time for peaceful sleep at last. Where there’s a lot going on on what would be side one (if this were on vinyl) – the head-turning and sheet-twisting; some of the guitar pieces have the feel of the openings to Slowdive tracks, chopped up and scrambled through a bad night’s sleep – the second half of the record feels calmer, and cleaner in some ways: the samples, recordings, scuzz and fuzziness drop away slightly, as guitar lines bloom into focus. Late on there’s a lovely piece of fretwork (‘Far from the Tree’) that wouldn’t sound out of place on something like Glenn Jones’s My Garden State. But there’s still plenty of hum and crackle: ‘Nember’ is a beautifully repeated loop that glows against a murky backdrop like a dimmed light from William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops; elsewhere, chiming guitar notes overlay the pulse of what could be a skipping CD, or perhaps the beating of dragonflies’ wings. A lot of ambient dronescapes can feel a bit heavy-handed these days – monolithic slabs of drone; heavy portents of impending doom or endless melancholy – but Insomni is a fine album; assembled with a lightness of touch, it’s a lovely undulating record, a late-summer treat.

Listen to/purchase Insomni here

Ian Preece on Caught by the River