Astral Socializing: Recent Neil Campbell & Related Round-Up
It's better than the "Campbell's Soup" title I was gonna go with. Maybe. Neil was kind enough to send in a recent batch of CDs and CD-Rs he's been involved with, two from his mostly solo Astral Social Club project and two reissues on his brand new Music Mundane imprint, one by him and one not so much by him.
For at least a few years now, Mr. Campbell's been putting out CD-Rs of his homespun experiments in terror under the guise of the Astral Social Club, with most being limited to 100 or thereabouts, all titled simply "#1" through to "#12" as of this writing. They're all packaged in the same way too - I.D. stamp on an otherwise plain CD, solid colour cardboard sleeve with "the" ASC photo pasted on, often with its own colours altered. I guess you can look at each one as a snapshot depicting whereabouts Campbell is musically, though the lack of any recording information or dates makes that much hard to confirm. "#11" (Self-released CD-R) is a mix of traditional Astral Social Club/Neil Campbell-favored celestial loops, swathes, shimmers, sparkles and just about any shiny word you wanna pin on the free form emissions. Tracks 2, 6 and 7 (always untitled) showcase this side best, a side you've already probably come to know deeply enough if you've been following Neil's work in the Vibracathedral Orchestra, least of all his solo outings. These are, however, mixed in with a couple of darker splotches - 1 and 3 contain more shadowy dronings and rhythms like overcast taking hold of a previously sunny day, while 4 and 5 appear to meet halfway between, mixing heavenly radiance with substantial rackings of murky, watery squelches suggesting a brand of total cerebral submersion in the ocean's deep in lieu of the clouds above. Which is to say that these particular tracks hint at something a touch more insidious working way down in Campbell's guts.
For the most part, "#12" (Self-released CD-R) abandons the glimmer of prior ASC outings and moves into considerably more bent experiments that mine ears perceive to be possibly more laptop based. Dig, for example, the isolationist sunken-tone trawls of track 5, led by heavily-mangled vocal incantations, as well as the destroyed rock forms on number 3. Weirdest of all perhaps are the swirling, disorienting breakbeats and choppy rhythms found on track 7, scraping turfs usually touched upon by the likes of Venetian Snares. Venetiancathedr- no, nevermind. Two tracks return to the sun-kissed, starry-eyed crystallizing sound as aforementioned, both with their own curious twists - glitchy, Fenneszian buzz of track 4 and what sounds like a looped recording of a seal with bronchitis barking, a baby laughing, and audience chatter set against a truly lovely, dreamy, piano note tumble. The burst of applause at the end that jars you out of the tracks' hypnosis is almost an annoyance, because I would've been happy hearing those notes for another 20 minutes.
I haven't sifted through all of the "#1-#7" MP3 CD-R Neil included (and I don't know much about #8-#10) but if they're all as diverse as these two, sounds like it'd be hard to go wrong with whatever you can grab. Mind you, unless you're desperate to trace Campbell's musical development every step of the way, I can't imagine owning a full set is truly necessary. I'd definitely recommend picking up at least a couple for a rousing/drowsing good time.
"SOL POWR" (Music Mundane CD) is a reissue of various Neil Campbell recordings (under his own name) that have cropped up since 2000. It contains tracks from a Lal Lal Lal 12" and a Gold Soundz 7", as well as one that was previously available as a techNOH download. The seven tracks that bookend the album (1-3 and 7-10) are the Lal Lal Lal sides and form their own little cocoon around the rest of the record - starting off with the gentle seaside glisten of "Buoy Sounding in the Porth" and moving through the slowly-ascending 10 minutes of "SOL POWR" onto the shuddering synth loop of "Fizzy Gristle", layered with white beams of sonic photon and jangly, cosmos-gazing belches. "Faint Raindow Over Mud Field" and "Middenship" start the final section of the album, both quiet and restrained pieces with the latter doubling up on what sounds like an oud and a harmonium to subtly moving effect. "Scandinavian Disco Connection" closings things off, but probably not with the bang like one might expect given the title - rather, it's an ambient wash in the vein of Tim Hecker, Machinefabriek, or FM3. Sandwiched in between these two sides are a couple of Campbell's more rambunctious works ("Rolling Exploding" and "Fuzzjaw/Dub") along with another exceptionally lovely, low-key pulse in "Sky Full of Love". If you were looking for a kind of Neil Campbell primer, or a place to dip your toes in, you'll find "SOL POWR" to be a blessing. The fact that it holds up on its own as a coherant record rather than the mishmash of tracks it really is is just icing on the cake.
Stewart Walden's "Cucumber Sandwich" (Music Mundane CD-R) was originally "released" in 1992 as a c90, and the quotes on "released" come because it was actually just passed around to Walden's friends and such. It's been reissued here for the first time with a split-stereo mixing job by Campbell. You might know Stewart from his membership in A-Band with Campbell, Richard Youngs, Jim Plaistow, and many others. Apparently now he goes by Stewart Keith and is playing once more with the recently re-formed A-Band, but that's all news to me. And all I can tell you about his "Cucumber Sandwich" record is that it's presented as a single 45-minute piece, recorded entirely on Casio SA10...which is really remarkable when you consider the dizzying array of sounds Walden spits up over the course of "Cucumber" - needle scratches, mock explosions, church organs, field recordings, gunfire, conversational chatter, 8-bit MIDI glurge, and I have no idea how much of it is real and how much is imagine or conjured up by the spell Walden's weaving. It's a tough record to pin down - it's noisy, but it's not a noise record. It's messy, but most certainly not sloppy. Walden strikes a fine balance between out-there electronic demonry and instant composition, recalling everything from Christian Marclay and Otomo Yoshihide to Xenakis and musique concrete to RRRecords' "Recycled" series, Merzbow's tape works, and the Los Angeles Free Music Society. It may be a touch long at 45 clicks but at least it's never boring. And even then, you could always take a couple trips through using just the left speaker and a muted right one, then switch. The possibilities are endless! Well I suppose 3 isn't endless at all, but you know. Considering this was recorded back in '92, it represents a pretty important and hither-to unknown cog in the early goings of the whole A-Band/Campbell/Youngs/Wickham-Smith/etc contingent. If you find yourself gobbling up those recent No Fans compilations with great vigor, you can't afford to miss this one.
Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above albums