Konx-Om-Pax, Regional Surrealism
PLANET MU RECORDS ZIQ323 CD (2012)
Although I have since determined that the title probably refers to local (Scottish) colour rather than, necessarily, to lesser-known British Surrealist painters, the promise of allusions in that direction initially piqued my interest in this release. Further investigation and closer scrutiny of the cover art proves this not to be the case; however, if we consider the 90s heyday of bedroom electronica, the associated hermetic synthetic productions of the various pale and furtive residents of the less cosmopolitan fringes of these grey isles, a form of regional surrealism 1 (and let us do so, just for the purposes of an extended and mixed metaphor), then this album can be viewed as a latter-day take on that canon. One that evinces some sense of a personal take on the form and which also incorporates glances towards other, more distant musical waters.
Aquatic metaphors are wielded by the press release, names like Drexciya are mentioned. While the watery references are for some tracks apposite, a more obvious set of sonic antecedents would be Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. Konx-Om-Pax’s personal twist on these inspirations being, apart from post-laptop-revolution production techniques and sound, a focus on the ambient potentials indicated therein. A gentle untethering of various archetypal Aphex-inflected melodies to be left to unspool at their own languid paces with slightly left-field accompaniments. Here a synth part is layered with a cryptic slowed-down monologue, there with a digitally mutating sound effect. The mode remains pretty much beatless although not arrhythmic, there are gentle arpeggiations and delays throughout the albums length, the moods are diffuse and subtle, with a couple of exceptions. ‘Pillars of Creation’ has a brassy heft to it which surprisingly (or not if you consider that there are one or two stray techno genes lurking somewhere in here) contains hints of mid 90s Carl Craig de-coupled from beats or any particularly techno inclinations. Other tracks nod towards the cross-genre sound palettes of, for example, latter-day Boards of Canada or Broadcast, all coloured with a general ambient wash.
‘Glacier Mountain Descent’ is presented as a rhythmic ‘reimagining of the start of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre’. In other words, Popol Vuh’s magisterial and truly mystical soundtracking of that scene. This unfortunately invites unfavourable comparisons to the original, despite being enjoyable enough on its own terms. Ash Ra Tempel are also invoked in the press release, to similar effect. It’s good to see Kosmische ripples still potent, still expanding their way through the collective unconscious. Krautrock isn’t a set of stylisms to be tacked-on and referenced, however, rather a state of expanded inspiration, striving towards the unknown or faintly apprehended. Surrealism likewise, British or otherwise, and whatever latter-day Dali might have you believe.
The abiding impression is of a de-anxietised drift through muted pastel clouds of coloured Teflon gasses or of Jan Hammer hits played underwater by a jellyfish on a sponge laptop. An unerringly pleasant listen if not freighted with too much (unrequested) expectation; and while not as cranky or weird as it could be by any means, it still exudes a certain quiet sense of individuality and could perhaps be good for a daydream or two of an afternoon whilst contemplating shifting grey British skies and their watery constituent elements; and who knows, maybe a slyly surreal experience may manifest during such a moment of abstraction?
- I’d particularly consider the works of, for example, Anthony Manning in this respect. ‘Chromium Nebulae’ and ‘Islets in Pink Polypropylene’ on the Irdial record label exemplify an individual, weird non-generic 90s electronica. See also various misfit emissions from the Rephlex label of a similar vintage e.g. Kinesthesia’s ‘Empathy Box’. ↩