Last year’s Music From The Edge Of An Island found Norfolk electronica producer Luke Abbott adrift in pensive and blinkered surroundings. Originally produced as the soundtrack to Jessica Hynes’ debut directorial feature The Fight (in which a young mother drowning in emotional trauma takes up boxing as a form of physical and emotional self defence), that album was mossy and delicate and showed Abbott light footing around a musical ring that threatened to swallow him whole. As gorgeous as it was, all smothered in bruised piano refrains, it felt like an echo of what had come before it.
Moving away from his solo work, Abbott had taken solace in recent years in film scores, such as the aforementioned Music From The Edge Of An Island and his award-winning soundtrack for the film The Goob, which got retitled as Music For A Flat Landscape. He also joined the ranks of improv jazz supergroup Szun Waves, and their 2018 release New Hymn To Freedom hinted at the composers desire for experimental independence. Safely engrained within a cluster of forward thinking collaborators, Abbott appeared to regain much of his sonic confidence.
This new album, his first in six years, finds Abbott, the musical underdog; back from the ropes, asserting dominance and throwing a few weighted punches. Melancholia is by and large absent. Instead the record is filled with more of the dark gossamer layering and centrifugal keyboard bubbles that demarcated his earlier output, such as on 2010’s Holkham Drones. First single Kagen Sound arrives from out of the mists, ominous and unwavering, a darkly aggressive restoration of Abbott’s power that combines the vigorous electro of ’80s kids film soundtracks with the emotional exploration of early Tangerine Dream.
Our Scene sustains that sense of foreboding with jabbing scatterings of synth, prodding at the beat as it roughly bounds along. The nervous Flux is suggestive of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, if it found itself coming up on wonky psychedelics during a particularly long improv jam, its arpeggios of synth firm in their initial resolve becoming ever more tremulous, as they stumble and splinter. On the track Ames Window we get Abbott in fast forward, providing a nine minute glitch roundhouse that recalls the youthful bedlam of Aphex Twin at his most lysergically unhinged. Roses is an enigmatic New Age dreamscape, with undulating modular patterns slowly being threaded with buoyant melody.
Earthship is the emotional sucker punch, an eloquent cinematic two note raga, underlain with spectral declarations; the sound of children’s play fighting and impassable walls of Ennio Morricone-esque atmospheric tension. It’s the culmination of all it preceded, tense yet empowered, it glowers and provocates at the heart of the record. Living Dust is insistent, a digital woodpecker furiously nailing itself to anything and everything that dares to cross its path, whilst River Flow is the diametric opposite, a static drone, altogether frugal, totemic and unbendingly composed. Feed Me Shapes is another serving of Spaghetti Western tragedy, refracted through Delia Derbyshire radiophonics and some anthemic goth inflections.
It comes to the final round with closer August Prism, in which Abbott emerges as victor. As robotic hands clap out a rhythm, ticker tape strands of electronic confetti start to flood the champions’ arena. Swept up in elation, its Abbott revelling in his new found resolve. Sometimes when life has you down for the count, keeping on your toes can help to prevent you from admitting defeat and throwing in the towel. Following some recent setbacks in his personal life, Luke Abbott has got round to making, for all intensive purposes, his impression of a breakup record, and damn, if it isn’t a total knockout.