Review by Frances Castle
Hannah Peel first came to public attention in 2010 with her EP Rebox — songs created with loops of paper punched with holes, and fed through tiny hand-turned mechanical music boxes which produced twinkling and mesmerizing versions of songs by The Cocteau Twins, Soft Cell and New Order. In the following years she has swapped the music boxes for analogue synthesizers, and has taken an unpredictable and idiosyncratic path through music making — in both her solo work, and with the band The Magnetic North.
Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia is the Northern Irish-born artist’s third album. Her last, Awake But Always Dreaming, dealt with dementia, and explored its relationship to music and memory. Continuing with the theme of the mind, and initially inspired by images of brain neurons and how closely they resembled pictures of the stars, on Mary Casio Peel compares the mind to the universe – both so huge and unmapped.
Peel spent her teenage years in Yorkshire, and the record was recorded in Barnsley — which is also where its main protagonist resides. Mary Casio, a fictional elderly electronic musician, lives in a terraced house, and watches the skies from her garden shed, dreaming of visiting the constellation of Cassiopeia.
Peel takes the sound of a traditional 29-piece colliery brass band, and mixes it with the space-age, star-spangled sounds of analog synths in lush cinematic settings. The opening track ‘Good Bye Earth’ in particular is wide scene orchestral, with arpeggiated synths and timpani drums, while ‘Arcid Orange Drawf’ manages to blend the brass band sound with a marching synth pop melody.
Most striking of all the tracks is ‘The Planet of Passed Souls’, a six-minute space odyssey which manages to move effortlessly from heart-pounding orchestral brass to a paper-looped music box melody. Via the cobbled pavement sound of a colliery brass band, we arrive at a sample taken from a crackling 78 record of Peel’s grandfather as a choir boy, singing in Manchester Cathedral in 1928. His pure voice reverberates across the years. ‘Life Is On The Horizon’ is all slow, delicate analogue synths, and lonely, trumpet-heavy brass, mixed with a beautifully simple mono synth pattern, and a sweeping white-noise wind sound. Perhaps the brass themes recall Mary’s childhood, and the synthesizer melodies are her elderly, wondering, star-gazing mind?
Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia is an ingenious and magical record that uses the sound of a brass band to conjure up images of terraced brick houses and soot-covered valleys, while the sparkling synths are the night skies above them. The production is wide-screen and beautiful; it’s a record that takes you to a place between this world and the skies above us.
Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia is released on 22 September. Buy/listen here.
Frances Castle on Caught by the River / Frances’s website