Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hallo Halloween II: Beelzebub Gets His Groove Back / Slow Walkers - 'Slow Walkers'

I'm currently typing this sentence for the first time on a bleak-looking grey, rainy day. Definitely a fitting time to listen to and write about Slow Walkers -- the collaborative release on LA-based label Peak Oil of experimental musicians / sonic artists Liz Harris (better known under the name Grouper) and Lawrence English.

The collaborative project (also named Slow Walkers) was described on Pitchfork in 2011 as being "a multi-media project about zombies [taking] the form of an album, video installations and a live audio-visual concert". Listening to the album, the conceptual links to zombies and to the genre of horror and horror cinema are not explicit, as such -- certainly not in the same way as, for example, Boards of Canada's more overt references to horror cinema by way of the soundtrack work of John Carpenter on this year's Tomorrow's Harvest -- but this overriding concept is something ever-present in the music and in the atmosphere of the music.

English and Harris' slow, crumbling, minimalist compositions make perfect use of noise and lo-fi drones to establish a bleak, cold, lonely mood and to create the impression of a wide, sparse, empty and abandoned space. Listening to these six tracks (which, for the most part, segue into one another) made me feel, in my head, as if I was Cillian Murphy's character in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (I know it technically isn't a zombie film, but - come on - it really is) walking through the vast and deserted streets of London: the once bustling, functional environment having collapsed completely within a very short period of time.

It's by no means a particularly 'easy' listen (if you're looking for a place to 'start' with both of these artists, this probably isn't it); but Slow Walkers is a conceptually rich and sonically detailed 40-ish minutes of dark, uncompromising atmosphere that is stopped throughout from seeping into the background (a potential risk when working within such abstract 'ambient' territory) through the compelling snatches of more kind of traditional melodic structures that we hear as degraded and broken (akin, significantly, to the structures of society / urban environments after a zombie epidemic), as well as through the fact that these deep and detailed tones and sound manipulations are all strongly characteristic of Harris and English's own distinctive artistic styles.

It'd certainly be interesting to see how well the album synced with the beautifully bleak shots of deserted London from Danny Boyle's 2001 film, 28 Days Later.
(image from The Phoenix)

With those distinctive styles in mind -- here are two recommended tracks from Harris' and English's

Lawrence English - 'Coda for a Fading Timeline'
I'll be honest; I'm much more familiar with Harris' work than with English's; but this, from Headphone Commute's excellent 87-track ambient / post-classical compilation, ...and darkness came, probably tells me that I should rectify that. Much in the vein of the work on this collaboration, the track is an short texturally-based work of broken-sounding ambient music in the vein of people like William Basinski and Fieldhead.
Mirrorring - 'Drowning the Call'
This is from Mirrorring: another collaboration of Harris', this time with Jesy Fortino (who performs under the name of Tiny Vipers)I reviewed their album, Foreign Body,  for BeardRock here, and talked about how effectively (in a way similar to that that can be heard on Slow Walkers) Harris' unique vision crossed and mingled with that of Fortino to create something that sounded unique and special to their collaboration. As well as that, I'd say that Mirrorring's album would be an excellent recommendation for someone interested in introducing themselves to Grouper's discography -- Foreign Body's dreamy, drone-folk showcases Grouper's distinctive approach to recording and production albeit within a more accessible context that borrows from Fortino's slightly more traditional singer-songwriter-esque approach.

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Slow Walkers was available on vinyl from http://www.thisispeakoil.com/
and is still available for download (£7.99) from iTunes.

Check out the video for 'Wake', below...

'Wake' from Slow Walkers - Lawrence English / Liz Harris from ROOM40 on Vimeo.

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