I’ve you’ve familiar with this blog or follow my Twitter feed, you probably know that I’m a huge fan of Pye Corner Audio and Ghost Box artists like Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle. These bands all owe a debt of gratitude (if not more) to the pioneering electronic music made in the 60s and 70s by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a history that has come to dominate the last decade of electronic music, as musician after musician cite them as an influence, emulate their sounds, or ape their collectivist name (witness The Advisory Circle, Priority Church Film Club, or my own Box Springs Audio Workshop).
I can check off all three of these boxes for Listening Center, the alias of New York drummer and electronic musician David Mason, who is not afraid to list the Radiophonic Workshop among his influences, nor is he afraid to throw out true-blue homages to their sounds on Example One, a 9-track, 30-odd-minute album.
Mason calls his music “a patchwork of imagined pasts/futures, in which the listener can make his or her way through an undergrowth of dream-like melodies and electronic sound palettes which have the effect of being now reassuring, now unsettling.” That’s a daunting description, to be sure, and one that would be difficult for any artist to live up to. That said, while I’m not willing to place this work up there with the best of the Ghost Box label (who do such a superb job of creating imagined pasts/futures), I can say that I greatly admire this album, not only for its superb musicianship but because the artist seems to have some excellent taste: I hear not only the Workshop here but Tim Hecker, various unearthed soundtracks from Trunk Records (like The Tomorrow People or Lubos Fiser’s soundtrack to Valerie), weird early Krautrock synth pop from Cluster or Harmonia or Kraftwerk, and even more recent works like Belbury Poly, Jon Brooks, and Mordant Music.
One thing these artists share is a simplicity of sounds, music that adheres to the “less is more” school. That’s what I hear in Example One. Take “Town of Tomorrow,” the second track. Vintage swirls of noise mix with a jazzy beat for a few seconds before a nice synth line straight out of The Advisory Circle’s last album appears, bobbing and weaving its way around the beat. It’s simple, clean, and elegant. Or take “Portable Electronic Musical Instrument,” which could be a lost instrumental from a Broadcast album, with a crunchy (and catchy!) rhythm and whiny synths that are distorted just enough to make us think the machines are creating the sound, not the musician–an impression that is magnified when the electronic voice chimes in, repeating the title over and over. Or take “New Narratives,” which starts with random computer noodliness right out of the Radiophonic Workshop before a nice bass line and synth pad bubble up and float along in a weird, lumbering way. And, yes, it moves and develops in interesting ways, but it’s really just a bass line and a synth, and that’s all it needs to be.
So many artists add layer upon layer upon layer to their works until the whole thing sounds like a big bunch of trying too hard. To me, stuff like James Ferraro and Oneohtrix Point Never gets old far too quickly, mainly because the music seems more like a burden than a joy to listen to. But Listening Center’s debut is different. It’s simple, well made, elegant, and fun. It reminds me a lot of Pye Corner Audio, and while it might not rise to the heights that PCA’s music often attains, it is a powerful listen.
Example One is out September 16 on This Is Care Of.