Monday, 1 April 2013

Ceephax Acid Crew - Cro Magnox


It's unfortunate that Andy Jenkinson was born to live the younger brother role to someone who, one day, would dub the Squarepusher moniker and become one of the more celebrated and recognized electronic producers/musicians of the past two decades. In that regard, Ceephax Acid Crew would always walk in his older brother's shadow, noticed by none except those truly scavenging the likes of Last.fm or Spotify in search of further musical recommendations. Fortunately, where Squarepusher has stumbled, rather than failed, to relive the same heights as his early career had rewarded, the younger of the Jenkinson brothers has, by result, been given the room to prove himself as much Squarepusher's equal. Ceephax's less DnB approach and more analogous celebration of the classic synthesizer models - as was the case in his 2010 LP debut, United Acid Emirates - was the perfect escape package for anyone interested in rediscovering the joy of late 80's Acid House, and thus getting the most out of the humble Roland devices. But even after such an interesting journey back into the past as was the album's case, the question remains as to what Ceephax does next, because - in the electronic field especially - retro pandering is never really greeted by the same fond smiles on a sophomore release. Three years later and the eighteen-track Cro Magnox could, on first sight, be attempting to cement Ceephax's status as more than just a younger-brother escapee for those wanting more from the genre. So does this play through and more importantly, is the direction any different?

Without question, this is an album bursting with more life than Emirates had, and gladly invites us into Ceephax's World of what he himself has described as 'nuclear human' or, to give more familiar scenery, liking it to the surroundings of power plants and industry. There's a hint we're perhaps dabbling into less charged/more soggier patches with the opening track Cooling Ponds (Drowning), and not just because of its title. The synths are not as monotonous or as analogous as they were on Jenkinson's debut, and because of it, the sweeping lace of percussion that hits against this rather bluesy palette of electronics, feels rather more empathetic and iteratively outward bound than what Ceephax has attempted. So too on the follower National Grid, Jenkinson's varied usage of the Roland catalog finds itself caught in this flurry of eery colours and airy textures that are as much atmospheric, as they are definably rhythmic in focus. Winterlo however is where Ceephax truly descends - because the swelling emphasis on 303 bass and its pulsating front certainly call for such description - into this uncoiled, outdoor setting he's painted both for himself and us alike. The driving momentum of beats and percussion certainly allude this to a techno leaning, but that doesn't necessarily class this as purely futuristic or adventurous. Rather, even with the glossy sprinkling of synths here and there, it's the momentum of the track that dominates. But more importantly, following on from this in a sequential manner, the turned-down brightness of it all is what comes out stronger.

It's a feature that is not only evident on an album such as this, but it's what gives Jenkinson's still rather simple, still rather amateurish, appliance of synthesizers, and takes it to the next layer-focused, atmosphere-swelled level. Of course, there's evidence of influence from currently-traded sub-fields in the likes of future garage, dub and even some RnB mixed in places - as much as there remains the personal fondness for acid house and techno alike - but the most striking thing, and sensation too, to come out of Ceephax's sound, is this clearer more stern focus on atmosphere and ambience. Memory Lake, for example, is a very slow, very timid offering of jittery, slightly echoey electric piano chords. And while it's not exactly the most flavorsome or even detailed of Jenkinson's eighteen tracks on this record, the way he emphasizes pause and spatial awareness makes the listener want to continue on, as if expecting something to jump out and surprise them. It doesn't come, admittedly, but the consolation that Ceephax is aware of a less dance-orientated treatment to electronics, is still comforting to say the least. What I find somewhat deflating then, is that we enter the second third of this album and there's less evidence to suggest Jenkinson has taken time to focus as much on the content and the deliverance, as he has done the actual vibes and feelings surrounding the elemental components. Camelot Science, while does give me a more cyber-punk early 80s throw-back feeling in its narrow-eyed high-speed journeying of synthesizers and programmed drum beats, there's less to suggest this is a track feeling fully fleshed-out and charismatic to Jenskinson's wider ideas. Likewise, Transcontinental Power Lines does even less to suggest it's even worthy of being on the album, and comes off more an extension of the former than an independent piece needing serious attention, or thought to go over and examine.

Where I feel this album truly makes its marks - and so crucially for an eighteen-track album whereby it's comprised solely on the indigenous of both mechanics and concept of humans alike - is when Jenkinson finds the right sounds and the right method of production to make the synths speak (metaphorically) to the listener as opposed to alluding to some kind of narrative. The title track is one of the first, truly momentous spots on the album where synths come out as if free to roam, yet at the same time end up tying together in a narrative as well as an illustration of what's before us. What starts as a slow, take-it-all-in spectacle in the vein of better-known epics in electronic music (Kraftwerk's Autobahn or Tangerine Dream's Phaedra come to mind) soon shifts up a gear and transcends itself to a more star-flung, but still rather emotively-deep state. It's as much adventurous in its use of synthesizer tones as it is deeply prolonging in its root of bass and hefty drum rhythms. And because of it, the spatial scope and depth to the music gives the story-like entity hidden in the album's own breadth some meaningful stature. But the baffling - and more disjointedly bizarre - moment on this album comes on the follower Quincy's Classic, which takes the sonically befallen 80's enactment of previous, and warps it immediately away from the former context to this new 90's-esque flung of dance beats and an interior-inclined groove. But surprisingly despite the shift, on the visual side to the music, it appears to fit the narrow highway flurry with which might be indicated on the album's front cover.

So as much as we're enticed by the darkly, richly atmospheres of Ceephax's variances in synth patterns, there's still a rather curious, sequential want/need in parts too. What concerns me though is whether or not Jenkinson can make these clashing perspectives in electronic music work as a sequential whole, as opposed to simply lying on their own as simply ideas. We return again to the former palette in the likes of Imperial Lounge (Maximillion) and it's clear to see there's a focus on where it is the music is intending to be placed, as much as there's enough pedigree and richness in Jenkinson's treatment of synths and effects as a complete narrative rather than a catalyst. It's when the music retreats into this so-called catalytic state that the sounds, I feel, become a lot more vulnerable to losing what means of conveyance they're hoping to achieve. In result, the sounds come off more passive and less challenging because of its lack of concrete directness towards the listener. When Jenkinson focuses on shorter episodic bursts like in Voyage of Excellox and the more feat-achieving Cobra Mist (Pylon Emotions), there's definitely a sign that the synths are more directed and dictated in a way that's enticing and colourful texturally. But when taken as a part of a much larger-scale album, what tones and means of presenting such sounds, lose most of their original intensity.

Flight of the Condor perhaps justifies Ceephax's delving into longer song structures and much larger-scale productions than previous. At nearly eight minutes, we expect something grand, but in the case of electronics, preferably something a bit more structured and developed gradually throughout. This is the track that meets both expectations, but doesn't necessarily fly past them uncontrollably. There's a sense of control and navigation surrounding this piece, but in it - amid the vibrancy of synthesizer hooks and towering drum beats - there's a clear balance, and distinction thereby, between discovery and realization. There's a return to this 80's flurry, but at the same time it has all the scope and understanding of its surroundings as a 90's techno track might contain. And all the while, the atmosphere of the piece fills in the remaining blanks - streams of cosmic futurism and slight psychedelic underpinning, adding some gorgeous colour to the mechanical beat and rhythm of the piece. So when Jenkinson is in his zone, likewise with follower Reactor, is when there is no zone. Rather, Ceephax's dictation of beats and texture balances itself out with the ambition and the scale of which he is so inclined to reach for. And as the album draws to a close, preceded by the loose-footed ambience of the blissful Newhaven Lights, Forest Zone 303 is perhaps a suggestion more than anything that there's still room for expansion in Ceephax's close-net surveying of the wider World - the track's foul linger of grossly, bellowing synths painting a lasting image of the more deceitful leanings of the World, as opposed to some cheerier, honest alternative.

It would easy to base my criticism of Cro Magnox on its length, but that I feel would instigate the lengthier tracks on this album, to be the main culprits. Rather, what benefits this record so vastly is the ambition and the length of which Andy Jenkinson manages to uphold without compromise, on these same tracks. Where I show my hesitance however, is in the overall management and arranging of the album's sequencing and progression from start to finish. Where there is a vast delicacy of electronics to divulge over, there is unfortunately a small minority whose very presence not only puts the best moments at risk of coming off disjointed, but too it lacks in any viability other than, perhaps, to break the record off into more contextual themes and visual settings. But the underlining quality - and therefore, what has given this record a rough finish on one edge - is that Jenkinson compels his listener when the theme and the atmosphere conjure into one elemental being, and not when one attempts to override the other. When both the concept and the context conjoin, it's here that Ceephax Acid Crew convinces to immense effect; where his decision to focus on more richer and textured synthesizers is met with a resounding level of approval. For the most part, Andy Jenkinson doesn't fall into said trap and doesn't appear even daring to try and bloat his ideas with unnecessary dissection or the like. The synthesizers remain as pure and as mechanical as the very devices that spawn them, but alongside them, with a little help from the effects and visuals department, what starts as a solitary beat - in most occasions - takes one look through its subjected field of vision, and projects. It's here, quite boldly, do we the listener finally take into account just how intense these new surroundings actually feel.
~Jordan

7.7

2 comments:

  1. gobsmacked by the length of this endlessly babbling review! you DO REALIZE that Andy Jenkinson has been releasing since at least 1998, with many LP's before United Acid Emirates, RIGHT?

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  2. INdeed , the guy had totally no idea .
    Andy walking in the shadow of his big brother ?
    also saying that ceephax music is discovered by those looking in the dark corners of last fm ????
    Jeez... he's been releasing on rephlex ,weme etc....
    For fuck's sake , he's just as famous and respected , and embrassed by people who actually know what they are talking about .
    Bad journalism

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