Welcome To “The Machine”

Metamatic | UK | CD | 2017 | META62CD

Metamatic | UK | CD | 2017 | META62CD

John Foxx + The Maths: The Machine UK CD [2017]

  1. The Ghost In The Machine
  2. The Other Mother
  3. A Dark Illumination
  4. Tidal Moonlight
  5. Hive Frequency
  6. Transworld Travelogue
  7. The Iron Bible
  8. Animal Mechanical
  9. Genetic Hymnal
  10. Memory Oxide
  11. Vortex Logic
  12. Orphan Waltz

Last year, from out of the blue came a DL of the live performance by John Foxx + The Maths of the music written to score a play of E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” One day it appeared with no warning and was available as a download. It was tasty stuff, but just a love EP of about 23 in length. Word then filtered out that The Maths were going to record the full score as their next album, and it was released on the 10th of this month. I had pre-ordered a copy from the Foxx webstore here, since they announced 2000 copies pressed and we don’t like disappointment. I loved the live EP, but this beast is decidedly different.

The album opens with an abstract instrumental, “The Ghost in The Machine.” It sounds like a few minutes of labored breathing, wind gusts, or perhaps waves crashing against the shore. It seemed like a very biological thing; not at all the stereotype of machines. This most appropriately sets the tone for this album, which will usually step away from the paths that the band have previously trod. While the third Maths album bore little resembance to the first, this one is something else again.

Only three songs cross over from the live EP: “Memory Oxide,” “Orphan Waltz,” and “The Other Mother.” All three hew closely to the live performance with “Memory Oxide” having the only Foxx vocals on the whole album, with the performer in full “Cathedral Oceans” mode. “Orphan Waltz” was a favorite of the earlier release, but these days I find that “The Other Mother” is taking up residence in my consciousness. Once I hear the plaintive, haunting melody, it sticks with me for hours. Now that I have had it stick so well with me, I was reminded of the tone of the music that Foxx had released a few years ago with Belbury Circle.

Some tracks here were very brief sonic sketches. “A Dark Illumination” seemed like a track from “Tiny Colour Movies,” but “Hive Frequency” was a much more unsettling piece that was the one of two songs here that actually had rhythm beds. The droning rhythms over rhythm box capably suggested a hive-mind with all melodic development driven in an endlessly looping structure. “The Iron Bible” was the soundtrack to a futuristic “Sermonette” broadcast. All simulated sentiment and empty calories.

The only other track with a beat was “Transworld Travelogue,” which it must be said, bore no resemblance to “Transworld Airwave” from the “Bunker Tapes” EP. The placidly paced track was somehow soothing but as I listened to it develop, I thought “why is this familiar?” It didn’t take me too long to figure it out. The sequenced eighth note loops hit very near the tempo of the intro to Ultravox’s “Western Promise,” and then at 1:40 the lead lines made their appearance and they are almost an identical patch to the leads on the earlier ‘Vox song! The meandering melody was decidedly similar. Foxx may have never heard the “Vienna” album, but I’d bet that Benge had. I wondered if this had occurred to him in the making of this track. Of course, “Western Promise” is a raging tiger of a tune, and the tone of this could not be more different as the contemplative vibe was so soothing and placid that surely no one [but me] would ever connect the two songs. Yet I just have.

“Genetic Hymnal” is the only other song here with vocals and a wordless Elizabeth Bernholz [Gazelle Twin] fills the cathedral like space with her eerie expression vocal, which barely sounds human. Actually, her voice echoes the synth patch I’d already mentioned on “Transworld Travelogue.” The track plays like the sincere shadow twin of the condescendingly fraudulent “The Iron Bible” earlier in the program. The program finished up with two of the earlier songs on “The Bunker Tapes” and one newer piece, “Vortex Logic.”

The program was only 40 minutes long but it actually seems faster when I listen to it straight through. Only a handful of tracks cross the four minute threshold, and while the first few plays felt unusually slight, I have found that the album keeps pulling me back into it. To the point where I want to listen to it constantly. As usual, Foxx is drawn to the ideas in the play source of nature overtaking technology but where the novella of “The Machine Stops” ends on a catastrophic note, it’s not surprising to hear Foxx ending the cycle of music on a spiritual and possibly exultant note. This album was a radical shift in the trajectory of John Foxx + The Maths, and I certainly hope that there will be more explorations following this one since I want to listen to nothing else right now.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
This entry was posted in Core Collection, Record Review and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Welcome To “The Machine”

  1. Steve says:

    Monk!

    I pre-ordered this album, too, and spent much of last weekend listening to it while writing a grad school paper (true story!). “Hive Frequency” is definitely a highlight, but the album needs to be listened to as an entire piece of music to be fully appreciated. Great album and great review!

    Thanks!

    Steve

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Steve – It’s a very compelling soundtrack for more than the play of “The Machine Stops,” isn’t it? Usually JF+TM grab me by the lapels but this time their approach has been more subtle but no less powerful. I drove home from work listening to it yesterday and immediately put it on the home stereo to hear again while cooking dinner.

      Like

      • Steve says:

        Definitely–this is a much more subtle approach from them, but so haunting and compelling.

        I can’t wait for the “Bunker Tapes” physical release, which is forthcoming, right?

        Like

  2. Echorich says:

    E.M. Forster’s short story The Machine Stops has managed to have relevance some 108 years after it’s first publishing. I think anyone who find’s that they are attached at the hip to their interweb device should really read it to get a bit of perspective.
    What I think JF+M have done here is find an aural path to relating the caution and concerns of the story to our world today as well as posit it’s relation to our not so distant future. Foster’s story was for it’s time what books like Ray Kurzwell’s The Singularity Is Near are for ours.

    The Machine opens with what I can only describe as one of the most forboding and forbidding pieces of music I think I have ever heard.
    The Ghost In The Machine brought images of desolate urban streets, empty howling subway/tube tunnels (I am an Anglophile, if I am nothing else) and a sense of disturbance surrounding you. It sweeps and throbs and hums like a self propelled entity or force and then it ends before you can even attempt to escape the feelings it’s brought up.
    The Other Mother continues with a slow pulse and drone, but seems to come down from above you and lift you off of the ground. It’s not warm, it’s not comforting, it’s cold and emotionless, but it’s beautiful and engaging.
    Dark Illumination is Foxx and Benge tipping the hat to the futuristic minimalism of Kraftwerk – something the legends have seemed to lost sight of over the years. It’s short, like an interlude, but it’s no more or less than it needs to be.
    Tidal Moonlight is a beautiful example of how electronic music can sound organic and engaging. The title is nothing more than an exact description of the music it represents. This is a piece of music that holds its own with anything I have ever heard from Glass, Wilson or Eno and it manages to do it in under 4 minutes.
    I know Benge has an appreciation of Arthur Russell and those tape loop pioneers that came before him. I am sure Foxx, being the cultural student I know him to be is as well. Hive Frequency brings so much of that loop- tastic beauty back for me. It’s got a dark, dark groove that makes you move.
    Transworld Travelogue shifts and builds as it creates circles of sound and layers of rhythmic patterns. It is electronic music, synth music that seems to grow a voice and sing to you. Some of the rhythmic patterns soar above, others plod the ground or race across roadways and rails. There is again a nod to Kraftwerk here that is unmistakable and yet not at all replicant.
    The Iron Bible sounds like a futurist sound Ident that takes on a life. Beautiful, but maybe meant to hide something deeper and possibly disturbing…
    Animal Mechanical is the sound machines at their daily grind. It is automation with the blood pumping the pulse pacing.
    Genetic Hymnal – is this the sound of machines praying to the Human godhead? Elizabeth Bernholz manages to convince me it is with her beautiful choir of one sound.
    Memory Oxide provides us the one song with John Foxx’s devotional vocals. This was, for me, the highlight of The Bunker Tapes live performance of songs from The Machine Stops and is just as hauntingly beautiful here. It ties in with the opening piece by representing a living, feeling presence to the cold windy futuristic desolation and thus the natural feeling of hope’s survival.
    Vortex Logic is the sound of life from within The Machine. It is chaos and electrical sparks, channel shifts and internal movement. It’s the sound of machines thinking and feeling – but maybe it is also the sound of The Machine expiring, dying.
    Orphan Waltz is a beautiful musical epilogue. It doesn’t paint a rosy picture; a bright future. It is a musical reflection of what is left after everything is finished. It builds in a truly cinematic way broadening and panning the vistas it encounters. The desolation is still there, the hum and drone are still there.

    The Machine works best as a single sitting piece. The short length of many of the pieces make much more sense in the context of the music that surrounds them. This is a pretty monumental and thought provoking piece. As much as it reflects the story it was commissioned for, it is a singular work of art that John Foxx and Benge most assuredly should be proud of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Science fiction fan that I was, I never read “The Machine Stops,” much to my chagrin. Does having the Level 42 track [also based on the story] count? I did read the synopsis, and I could see that “The Iron Bible” was clearly related to the point where the Machine worshipping religion was established. Since you are seeing the production soon, you can provide a new perspective after that.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s