In Another Room
A decade or so ago, the idea of Paul Weller releasing an EP of eerie musique concrete might have seemed fantastical, yet post 2010 LPs such as Sonik Kicks and Saturn’s Pattern have acclimatised fans to the Modfather’s increasingly experimental mindset, here reaching an apogee on four instrumentals: In Another Room, Submerge, Embarkation, Rejoice. Pieced together from spectral piano parts, white noise, doomy `dongs’, faraway voices and field recordings of birdsong and running water, they fit the Ghost Box label’s rubric of “hauntology” impeccably. Elements of these tracks, described by Ghost Box’s Jim Jupp as “like a late Beatles studio experiment”, can also be heard on Weller’s new, as-yet-untitled album, due in summer 2020, most discernibly in its epic opening track, Mirror Ball.
The Modfather’s latest curveball is a luxurious four-track EP of mysterious sounds. Comparable with the world’s most applauded experimental artists including Sun Ra and Captain Beefheart, the work found here is fascinating. The title track features what sounds like a millisecond of a child’s voice whilst grand piano, Moog synthesizer and exterior noises merge together in one fusion of sound. ‘Submerge’ introduces a cello before screeching violins barge their way in as mumbled vocals can be heard low in the mix. ‘Embarkation’ has twittering birds chirping throughout as a distorted synthesizer interrupts the track repeatedly. ‘Rejoice’ introduces a delicate looping cascade of wonderfully played piano – vocal woos bring a chunk of reality to this final chapter. If you’ve followed Weller during recent years you’ll see a natural progression to him releasing something this experimental. After all, this is the territory in which Weller revels. A visionary release.
Paul Weller’s Ghost Box debut joins Lloyd Cole’s modular synth album and Noel Gallagher’s abandoned krautrock record in the recent tradition of Painless Hobbies For 50+ Rock Men. Four tracks, only one more than two minutes long, sketch out fabrics of piano, cello and field recordings that oddly recall the mood of Terence Davies’s films of nostalgia for postwar working class life (Distant Voices, Still Lives indeed). The edits, a tamed version of the fractures of early Focus Group, are the most recognisably Ghost Box element; the vinyl crackle, echo and slowed harmonica of “Rejoice” cut through its well-made piano stomp like the negative space in an Yves Tanguy painting.
Paul Weller’s experiments in tape for Ghost Box convincingly fit into this most particular of labels and are charmingly avant-garde in their own right.
I might have underestimated Paul Weller fandom when I casually went to pre-order a physical copy of In Another Room the morning it went on pre-sale. Already gone and sold out all over. This Ghost Box 7” (beautifully packaged as always courtesy of Julian House) is limited to 1000 copies and I understand that Mr Weller is, well, a rather popular figure within certain circles. My attempt to source this piece of the Ghost Box puzzle in the physical realm was therefore destined to be unsuccessful, but that shouldn’t detract from the music itself.
Paul Weller and Ghost Box may appear to be the oddest of bedfellows on paper, but these seven or so minutes across four tracks are enough to convince on even a single listen. Weller has crafted a compelling tapestry of experimental delights, new worlds for him and us to explore together. Tape loops, fragments of orchestrations, birdsong, backwards incursions – a plethora of inviting avant-garde ideas that don’t trip over themselves into self-indulgence. It’s The Prisoner via “Revolution 9” whilst maintaining easy restraint. If that sounds contradictory then so be it, for this is a 7” of delightful contradictions.
The title track is the sonic equivalent of a door wedged open but a crack, allowing snippets of sounds to be overhead from the universe beyond. Magic is taking place inside or else the magic of places is seeping out. A piano and the chime of bells anchors this particular piece of musique concrète. “Submerged” not only snatches voices from multiple pasts, but employs strings and keys to disconcertingly gentle effect, like some cue to an imaginary Alain Resnais-directed Play for Today. Weller then cuts-up across “Embarkation” which juxtaposes pastoral field recordings with the radiophonics of early Doctor Who.
The most haunted piece on the EP is also the most Wellerian. “Rejoice” is more conventionally musical, yet its essence is so fragile that it cannot maintain substance and instead ends up as a fragment from some half-remembered dream. It becomes the accompaniment to a scene that is impossible to pin down, although consider abandoned seaside town halls transmitting the past via stone tape recordings or the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band stuttering to life, cut-out figures crawling off the sleeve. “Rejoice” is an interlude disguised as a last hurrah and is thus a fitting end to the strange and compelling case of Paul Weller on Ghost Box.