The Best Defence

Under his Ice Yacht guise, Phillip Sanderson put out the cassette version of Pillbox (SNATCH TAPES TCH 219) in July 2020 and at time of writing (October 2020) that physical edition has already sold out. Sanderson proudly points out it’s the first Snatch Tapes cassette release since 1981, reminding us of his post-punk noise and DIY roots and the trails blazed by this great label (home to Organum and Alien Brains as well as Storm Bugs). As to Ice Yacht, he hasn’t used this alias since the 2015 tape Pole Of Cold on the German label Fragment Factory, which aimed to deliver a bit of ambient electronic dronage themed on a sea voyage topic.

Pillbox is supposedly painted from “a more industrial palette” according to creator, but if so it’s certainly on the more humane and approachable side of that sometimes bleak and dehumanising genre…I mean the tones are generous and rich, mysterious and eerie where the usual industrial mode is to settle for “frighten all listeners” with visions of apocalyptic doom, hopefully set against background of an iron foundry. This may have something to do with the creative process behind these four cuts. Rather than working exclusively in studio (be it virtual or otherwise), Sanderson started out by collecting odd sounds from nearby Romney Marshes, before taking said tapes home to manipulate through treatments and blend into feedback loops, as surely as making bread with fresh yeast. In method, execution and (to large extent) final production, the record is closer in spirit and intent to any given INA GRM LP or release on Disques BAM, highly sympathetic to the Schaeffer-approved mode of transmutated recorded sounds. My favourite cut is ‘Slow Water’, whose limpid and melty qualities we enjoy, transmitting sense of travelling through some surreal underwater scape.

Hardened tough-nosed listeners may prefer the title track, a steely glimpse of eternity in just 13:30 and shot through with a becoldened sense of menace (one possible link back to the industrial mode). This ‘Pillbox’ cut also happens to open the session and evidently is intended to usher in the mood of the general project like an architect’s anteroom. Many layers and leading towards a rather cluttered attic of the mind, which may be why ‘Slow Water’ hits the spot in terms of imaginative thirst-quenching. On the other hand ‘Pillbox’ keeps building to a relentless, noisy future where many sonic clobbers await the unwary and unguarded face. This leaves us with the two short tracks ‘Ice Spikes’ – an evocative title if ever there was – does the creator see painful instruments of death when he beholds the humble icicle? Noise here is an ugly clatter of metallic percussion getting nowhere, a chaotic brew. Heavily disguised source materials given extra alienation through wobbly studio processing. For enjoyable “pop music” fare (in this context, tune ye to ‘Up and Over’, less than 90 seconds of Glass/Reich styled repeating arpeggios disguised as library music. Love this piece of semi-pastoral miniaturising, but it seems out of place in remaining company.

Lockdown conditions in the UK have helped shape this work, giving Sanderson ample time to meander in various environs and consider his creations, mulling them over like so many stewed pears. Arrived 12 July 2020 (though I got a physical copy the month after that).