First up, there’s been a lot of talk about hypnagogic pop recently (in the Wire in particular). My dictionary defines hypnagogic as 1. of or pertaining to drowsiness and 2. inducing drowsiness. Is that really what they mean – pop that makes you sleepy? Or is it just misuse of big words that folk don’t really know the meaning of?
It’s just an aside, although there is a sense that the adjective could be used to describe the new Kingbastard magnum opus Beautiful Isolation. It’s too good to induce drowsiness, but it does inhabit a weird area between dreams and reality.
Anyone familiar with Chris Weeks’ previous works will know him as a playful and eclectic purveyor of electronic music that weaves found sounds and acoustic instrumentation into its melodic fabric. But they won’t be prepared for this at all. Beautiful Isolation plunders its ideas from prog, psych, folk, ambient, new age and soft rock but in unexpected ways. It’s an odyssey of sound and song that is consistently fascinating. Although there are ten tracks, most don’t stick to one theme throughout and often go wandering off in unrelated directions. The whole, though, flows beautifully.
Throughout the album, you catch glimpses of things that remind you of something else, but never in a blatant way. Structurally and thematically its closest cousin would be something like Dark Side of the Moon. It’s partly the way it flows and yet paradoxically leaps about stylistically, partly the way that field recordings – snatches of manic laughter, static, car alarms etc – are integrated, and partly the loose concept that holds the album together: a theme of, well, isolation.
Nearly every song is a conglomeration of different music ideas – some mere snatches, some fully developed into songs that could be plucked from the whole more or less fully formed. Losing My Mind Through Bridge Meadow immediately drags you into the KB soundworld, with multi-tracked vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar, a short snatch of staccato strings and all this before the central song emerges – a brief gem of bucolic, psychedelic pop.
All but three of the tracks are, for the most part, beatless. The title piece is one of the trio that isn’t, and is one of the most melodically straightforward songs on the record, even though the organ driven song is broken up with sections of quasi-ambience, and the coda consists of some fairly grandiose washes of synth. The Deserter is an outstanding folkish, acoustic ballad and one of the album’s key highlights (and why does the little loop at the end remind me of Trumpton?). Others include Sound the Alarm, a distant cousin of the Beach Boys’ Sloop John B played at half the tempo and with twice the melancholy which somehow ends up rattling along like a drum ‘n’ bass tune.
The finale Hapus A Ddaeth I Ben (Croesi Bysedd) brings us back to the Dark Side of the Moon comparisons, as there is some common ground with that record’s closing duo Brain Damage / Eclipse, although the Kingbastard track is much more fractured into different bits, even more than anything preceding it.
Beautiful Isolation is a fantastic achievement, and an unqualified success. It’s a phenomenal patchwork of splintered themes, fully-realised songs and splendid sonic exploration. I’ve hardly scratched the surface in this review, there’s so much going on. I’m no fan of the ‘buy-if-you-like’ tagline since it reduces music to lazy ghettos. But if a record that is part early seventies Floyd, part Future Sound of London, part side two of Eno’s Before and After Science and part Animal Collective sounds at all intriguing to you, I’d say get your wallet or purse out. The album is out at the beginning of May
1. Losing My Mind Through Bridge Meadow 7:01
2. The Slippery Slope to The Lost Art of Conversation 8:48
3. Beautiful Isolation 8:28
4. The Deserter 5:10
5. Open Up Your Mind and the Door 6:44
6. Multicoloured Octopus Ink Nightmares 7:01
7. Seawater Fool – Firewater Fool 4:34
8. Prendegast Cherry Grove 5:21
9. Sound the Alarm, There’s a Dark Sea Rising 8:31
10. Hapus a Ddaeth i Ben (Croesi Bysedd) 8:39