Concretism / For Concrete and Country
It was 20 years ago (!) this month that Boards of Canada released the landmark Music Has the Right to Children album. The impressionistic blend of analog synthesizers, subdued beats and hazy effects launched the “hauntology” genre that continues to thrive today in the musical underground. While Boards of Canada’s releases had a mostly wistful hint of sunny nostalgia to them, the music of Concretism is the soundtrack of a different imagined past - one that is instead based on the very grim realities of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s with the threats of nuclear war, state surveillance, militarism, and an ominously fraying post-war infrastructure. When I listen to Concretism, I picture a gray and drizzly British landscape of Brutalist-style buildings and towering electrical infrastructure (a stark contrast from the neon-splashed beaches and palm trees that seem to dominate the aesthetic of synthwave).
This week Concretism (Chris Sharp of Essex, UK) releases his latest album, For Concrete and Country. As a whole the album is a very subdued and somber affair when compared to his previous efforts. - a dark meditation on what seems like a world on the brink of destruction. In fact, this may be Concretism’s most cohesive and focused album so far in terms of theme and tone.
In the run up to the album’s release, Concretism has tweeted about the eerily parallels between the themes of this album (government plans for survival and continuity in response to a nuclear attack) on the album and the recently increasing “Cold War 2” tensions between the US/UK and Russia.
While there is an overall somber mood dominating both sides of For Concrete and County, the tracks on the album still display all the elements of the trademark “Concretism” sound: analog synthesizers, dirty-and-smothered-in-reverb drum machines, circular chord progressions, strong melodies, and what I can only describe as “THE Concretism chord-change” (you’ll know it when you hear it).
What is unusual about the album is the inclusion of several short moody interstitial pieces like “Microwave Relay,” “Hardened Telephone Exchange,” and “ROC Trainee Programme” which add to the whole “concept album” cinematic experience. Tracks flow seamlessly from one to the other, often ending or beginning with radio static or what I can only guess are electronic distress beacons.
Highlights from the album include the opener, “Black Special” which thunders ahead with big live drum track and hard-driving eighth-note bass line, along with the comparatively (and dare I say danceable) up-tempo track “New Governments for A New Nation.”
The title track, “For Concrete and Country,” contains all the features Concretism is known for - layers upon layers of analogue synthesizers weaving their way in and out of a circular chord progression featuring that famous chord change and eventually leaving the listener completely unsettled and very anxious by the album’s end.
For Concrete and Country is available in LP vinyl (either black or turquoise) and digital download formats from Castles in the Sky/Norman Records and features cover artwork by Richard Littler of “Scarfolk” fame.
Chris Frain produces electronic music as Pattern Language. The first album, Total Squaresville, is now available on Happy Robots Records