The album pitch for Blacksand’s debut, Barn, may have gone something like this…. “Hey! I know what the world needs! Three noodling tracks with neither vocals or twiddly dance beats to go over the 20 minute mark. The kids’ll go wild for that shit!”… but probably didn’t.
Blacksand are no spring chickens to the world of music, comprising one half of chill-out gurus Lemon Jelly, Nick Franglen and Charles Casey of Akasha (you and me both,”Who?”) – (“the original purveyors of tripped-out noirish, jazadelica” it appears) to combine their love of sonic exploration in a world beyond Pop Idles (sic) and studio trickery. They operate basically as a guitar duo, but this is no way Journey South.
They tease and feed their instruments through a mass of effects pedals and units until guitars become the last thing you think is being played. Unless you can cling onto the twangy interjections that hang in mid-air like some David Lynch soundtrack. Listening to Barn, this is far from obvious. When the music is at its most abstract, the ear picks out ghosts of other instruments that aren’t there. Like the other-worldly sections of Spiritualised, jazz, world music, it feels like there are higher powers at play here which reveal more intricate or unintended layers with each listen.
Like craftsmen of old they lovingly tease layer upon layer of reverb, echo, loop and feedback until the sound threatens to collapse under the weight of it. and in this age of sonic perfection where turds can be polished to resemble sleek-streamlined Frankenstein’s monsters devoid of the sweat, blood and inspiration that brought them into being, Blacksand record live with no overdubs. So on their rare live shows (in often rarified settings a church, an abandoned mine, and possibly, in the future, a submarine) no one performance can ever be repeated.
From the backwards masking, spacey twangs, banjo-tronica stew of opener Probe 1 there emerges an air of creeping menace of communication being sought through a pulsing throb of noise that ebbs out to leave a void reminiscent of more ambient Aphex Twin. Being an instrumental album and so evocative of a dark and mood-shifting film soundtrack it can unfortunately make usually calm and level-headed music reviewers throw their hands up and concede to writing sentences such as: “Jarring tremolo cascades inside your own private ‘sonic temple’ like bats firing their radar off to grope around the dark for some semblance of certainty and builds to a monumental Russian drone and balalaika finale”, to attempt to replicate the experience of the closing half of the opening ‘track’. Forgive me.
Comparisons are many but none truly capture the essence of Blacksand. There are whiffs of the acoustic-tronica of The Album Leaf, the mantra-like quality of the Brian Eno / Robert Fripp albums, the experimental side of Julian Cope’s Queen Elizabeth project..
The titles sum up the spirit at work here of peeking out into the void of the unknown, where there are no firm footings, no reliable certainties but it’s not done in depressing or bleak sense, there are always threads of warmth and intrigue to pull you along through the darker passages into the next shaft of light. In keeping with this U1195 shifts into focus as if it were aboard some slumbering submarine hanging in the depth of water with echoes rebounding off its hull of water pressures, probes and unnamed sea curiousities peering back from the darkness at this new intruder before deciding what to do with it.
By contrast to its colleagues, Abyss fairly buzzes into view on rolling loops of dense sound. There are scents and sounds of an Indian nature cropping up amongst the fields of noise before subtly fading out on a strummed guitar reminding the listener that (and the effects pedals) is what has been producing these intriguing and mesmerizing sounds.
Not for those seeking quick pop thrills or yet another chill-the-fuck-out-and-stop-buying-chill-out-albums-album; this is something a little more substantial and would stop a dinner-party in its tracks. For that reason alone seek it out and nourish your ears.