The Radiophonic Workshop: Burials In Several Earths

Burials In Several EarthsThe Radiophonic Workshop is back, minus the BBC. If the band’s retinue of veteran analog electronic music pioneers can keep turning out original material like this, it might result in a new generation of fans wondering why they were slumming it for the BBC for so long. The Radiophonic Workshop is made up of former members of the storied BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an experimental electronic music & effects department of the BBC founded in the late 1950s to provide unique music and sounds for the steadily growing output of the BBC’s radio and television channels. The work, in those days before samplers and digital synthesizers, was grueling; membership in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was always fairly limited because you had to love what you were doing, working with oscillators a beat and tone generators and analog reverb and tape loops. The Workshop remains, perhaps unjustly, best known for the original Doctor Who theme music dating back to 1963, but its body of work spread so much further than that…until the BBC closed the Workshop’s doors in the 1990s.

But its members, it turns out, weren’t averse to workshopping their unique sound without Auntie Beeb paying the bills. Having spent over a decade as a touring group recreating their sound the old-fashioned way for audiences who already knew their work and audiences only just discovering them, the Radiophonic Workshop has now gifted us with a new album with the unmistakable sound that gained them a following in the 1960s and ’70s. Is it abstract? At times, yes – about 13 minutes into the lead track, you’d swear they were trying to make a musical instrument out of the sound of the Liberator’s teleport from Blake’s 7. Everything from white noise to whalesong crops up. But what’s amazing is how tuneful it is at times. Echoing piano is a constant presence, along with actual guitar work (Paddy Kingsland, whose Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide scores in the early ’80s were ear-wormingly hummable, take a bow). There are a few places where a groove emerges from the soundscape and the Radiophonic Workshop proceeds to rock out.

Not a bad feat considering that some of these gentlemen are past what many touring musicians would consider retirement age.

4 out of 4The real fascination of Burials In Several Earths is that it’s electronic music created in a way that has almost been lost to time and the march of technology. That description doesn’t really do it justice though – that sounds more like the description of a tech demo. The Radiophonic Workshop is making actual music this way, delighting audiences on stage, and bolting new chapters onto a legacy of ridiculously hummable short tunes from a bygone age. At times ethereal, at times exciting, the one thing Burials isn’t is boring.

Order this CD

  1. Burials In Several Earths (18:58)
  2. Things Buried In Water (22:01)
  3. Some Hope Of Land (25:15)
  4. Not Come To Light (3:58)
  5. The Stranger’s House (11:23)

Released by: Room 13
Release date: May 19, 2016
Total running time: 1:21:35

Robot Vengeance – Cruising The Space Time Continuum

Cruising The Space Time ContinuumThe second album from electronica act Robot Vengeance, Cruising The Space Time Continuum is a dandy collection of instrumentals, centering around two common themes: a strong beat and a “space” theme. In some respects, Cruising is fairly retro, in places using samples that I could swear the Art of Noise once used. Standouts include “Dancing Weightless”, with an ever-shifting beat pattern and retro synths, “Fast Enough To Slow Time” and “Faster Robot” (both with great bass lines that appear and disappear), and “Star Clad” with its spacey vocal samples.

3 out of 4Cruising is an album that needs to be listened to at least once on headphones and then on speakers. The bass and beats aren’t done full justice by headphone listening – they’re a decent subwoofer workout – but the intricate synth loops demand at least one “up close” listen.

It’ll be interesting to see what further Robot Vengeance may await us in the future; it’s a promising enough collection that I’m up for more.

Order this CD

  1. Accelerating Universe (2:20)
  2. Dark Energy (3:02)
  3. Dancing Weightless (3:14)
  4. Fast Enough To Slow Time (2:45)
  5. Absolute Zero (3:29)
  6. Antimatter (2:49)
  7. Faster Robot (2:49)
  8. Infinite Solutions (2:32)
  9. Oort Cloud (2:59)
  10. Paradigm Shift (3:45)
  11. Star Clad (3:21)

Released by: Robot Vengeance
Release date: 2014
Total running time: 33:05

Royksopp – Senior

Royksopp - SeniorThis album has been hotly anticipated since, well, the last album Royksopp released. As is generally known now, Senior was recorded in tandem with 2009’s Junior, and the intention was to release them at opposite ends of that year, with the more upbeat, youthful Junior arriving – appropriately – in the spring, and the more somber Senior landing during the winter months. It was always known that Senior would be less cheerful and virtually all-instrumental. That might be enough to put some prospective listeners off, but this is Royksopp: the same outfit that’s brought us epic instrumentals such as “Royksopp’s Night Out”, “Epie” and “Royksopp Forever”.

Senior is indeed a much moodier album than Junior, but this doesn’t mean that rhythm has been left at the door; the second track is an instrumental version of Junior‘s “Tricky Tricky”. But it’s the tracks that don’t resemble Junior which are the real standouts. The heart of Senior lies in the one-two punch of “The Alcoholic” and “Senior Living”, both laid-back pieces with a hypnotic groove. “Senior Living”‘s languid guitar work and choral textures add to the spacious feel and instantly make it one of the all-time great Royksopp instrumentals, while “The Alcoholic” has a mesmerizingly unpredictable combination of a keyboard loop and guitar. Neither is particularly flashy from an instrumental standpoint, but they also never quite fade into background music.

If you think you’re detecting a pattern of mentions of an instrument on doesn’t normally associate with Royksopp, you’re not imagining it: the 4 out of 4real surprise of Senior is how often some very nice guitar work pops up, with “The Forsaken Cowboy” and “The Fear” both featuring six-string supplements to Royksopp’s usual sound. It’s an unusual enough addition to Royksopp’s arsenal that I’m already wondering how it might work its way into the duo’s next album. Senior is good enough that it’s already got me hungry for that next entry.

Order this CD

  1. …And The Forest Began To Sing (1:52)
  2. Tricky Two (7:53)
  3. The Alcoholic (5:12)
  4. Senior Living (5:11)
  5. The Drug (6:00)
  6. Forsaken Cowboy (5:30)
  7. The Fear (7:03)
  8. Coming Home (5:07)
  9. A Long, Long Way (4:02)

Released by: EMI
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 47:50