27 Feb 2015

Francis Monkman & Paul Hart "Energism" & "Futurism"

Reviewed by Nathan Ford

Who knows whether it has anything to do with Luke Vibert's excellent "Nuggets Vol. 3" selection (available here ridiculously cheaply at the moment), or whether the powers that be have just decided that it's time, but the folks at Dutton Vocalion have turned their attentions to the contents of the excellent Bruton and Chappell music libraries with an exciting batch of reissues, all making their first appearances on CD.

Rather than focus solely on the funky side of these two catalogues, the first batch of releases in this series seems to be selected to highlight the wide range of styles and moods that were required, whether that be drama, jazz and romance, spy & crime suspense, or futuristic synthesizer opuses, which Monkman and Hart offer in the pick of the series so far. (I say "so far", hoping there will be more to come, but can't confirm that will be the case).

"Energism" & "Futurism" make a fine pairing, focusing as they do, on pairing forward-thinking synthesizer tones with a conventional drums / bass rhythm section. Names like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream are bandied about in the press release information. Fair enough too, but that doesn't take into account the distinct Englishness of these pieces, which tie in far more closely to Ghost Box's aesthetic, especially the public service announcement / nature films schtick of Jon Brooks' Advisory Circle, which is itself heavily influenced by this era.

And while Monkman and Hart may have similar approaches to arrangement on these albums, they have distinctly different compositional sensibilities, allowing for a greater range than one would expect to encounter from one composer alone. Originally recorded in 1979 and 1981, these releases share a fuzzy VHS view of the future which sounds very much of its time, but also prescient - perhaps not in terms of evoking a realistic vision of the future, but certainly as to how various strands of electronic music would evolve.

Of the two, Monkman's "Energism" has the biggest tunes, with tracks like "Accomplishments of Man" having an epic sweep which effortlessly conjures images of Stonehenge, Incan ruins and other mysterious, slightly otherworldly sites. If Arthur C. Clarke didn't use this piece in his TV series, he certainly should have.

Hart on the other hand provides more variety with some quite suspenseful pieces, as well as some gorgeous tracks with extensive fretless bass which makes this go down very smoothly indeed.

Excellent sleeve notes too on this release, with an overview of the Bruton label itself, as well as features on the two featured composers / bandleaders.

This is an essential purchase. Those who have already delved into Library music will be well aware of the quality of these two albums, but fans of Boards of Canada, Ghost Box Records, and synth based electronica in general are in for a real treat here.

"Energism" & "Futurism" (and the other titles in this series) are available here at a bargain price - particularly bearing in mind how much the original LPs of most of these titles go for!

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