Peel Away the Ivy
The Pattern Forms
This collaboration between Friendly Fires’ Ed Macfarlane and Edd Gibson with Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle starts with a clutch of songs so lovely, a floating flock of diaphanous electronic songbirds, that it feels like being seduced. The melodies and atmosphere of late afternoon sunshine slowly gathers you to its warm beating heart where, it turns out, you would rather like to stay. I haven’t heard music quite so evocative of time and place since first encountering Air’s “Moon Safari”. But while that consummate late-90s album had just enough dancefloor in its make up to ignite an ever-so-slightly strident sexiness, “Peel Away The Ivy” swirls around a kind of epic lOcc pop beauty and whispers in your ear until you fail in love with it and its pastoral eroticism. Gorgeous.
Overuse of the word hauntology has died down recently, but the artists attached to unashamedly specialist British record label Ghost Box deploy references and throwbacks that have, after 13 years, become almost self-parodic. But if you were watching ‘One Man And His Dog’, you wouldn’t expect anything other than sheepdog trials; it’s best to approach each Ghost Box release in a similar frame of mind. On first look, “Peel Away The Ivy” displays quintessential Ghost Box attributes: from the title down to the Julian House assemblage of photocopied stock photos of dismal English landscapes, pylons and washed-out journal entries. Quotations from Colin Wilson and John Cowper Powys tick all the right boxes. The Pattern Forms is a collaboration between Ed Macfarlane and Edd Gibson of Friendly Fires — who were actually nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2009 — and Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle. Once you pass through the 38 second intro, with its detuned zither and lonely flute, Peel Away The Ivy blooms into a rather fine pop record – the dreamy, colour-saturated 80s pop of Prefab Sprout, the Blue Nile, mid-period Talk Talk, Icelandic wunderkinder Fantastic Something, or Ghost Box contributor John Foxx. Like Belbury Poly’s From An Ancient Star, or the more beat-heavy tracks of Boards Of Canada, this is memorious music stumbling towards a hookup at the village hall disco. Production is both springwater-clear and hazed with shabby sonics. Every track has some sit-up detail: cowbells and prodigious electro beats on opener “Black Rain”, distant Beach Boys harmonising on the ethereal “Fluchtwege”. “Daylight” and the gorgeous “First In An Innocent World” recall The Blue Nile’s “Hats”, with decorative cornices fashioned in The BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Only on “Man And Machine” does it collapse into schtick, with a sub-Kraftwerk anti-automation message complete with vocoder. In iTunes the album is genre-tagged indie rock, and at times its lovelorn solipsism feels like an electronic update of anorak pop. Not so “Sparrowhawk” and the brilliantly titled “Polymer Dawn”, which emanate from the same quadrant as Vangelis’s shimmering Blade Runner soundtrack. Appropriate really — music like this is a kind of replicant, loaded with false memories and only half conscious of its origins.
Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle) joins forces with Ed Macfarlane and Edd Gibson of indie band Friendly Fires. NME darlings around the turn of the decade but extremely quiet since. McFarlane’s vocals are half shoe-gazing melancholy, half glossy ’80s bedsit crooner (Prefab Sprout. The Blue Nile) and Brooks’ trademark analogue synths are frequently anchored to driving drum patterns. The results are often unexpectedly anthemic and uplifting though still palpably strange and mysterious.
Sometimes closer to Hall & Oates than Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), the album more usually manifests as a gorgeous ache that flickers between Talk Talk and Boards Of Canada. The ancient meets the modern, heading out of the city and over the Downs, with the urban high-rise behind you and the motorway following the path of the old straight track. A faerie ring captured in an Instagram snapshot; an ancient hill fort waiting patiently beneath a chemtrail-laden sky.
Supergroups don’t work! We all know this, right? At times it can seem as if forming a supergroup is nothing more than an excuse to get together with some mates, dick around, consume copious amounts of drugs, and issue the results of a farting contest on deluxe vinyl while wanking on in interviews about how you have created “great art”. This need not always be the case though!
For instance, the sublime pop created by members of Friendly Fires with Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle for their “Peel Away The Ivy” LP. Soft, subtle and beautifully seductive, the album shows that a meeting of minds can be a wondrous thing.
This month two thirds of indie dance disciples Friendly Fires (Ed Macfarlane & Edd Gibson) join forces with Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle fame for a leftfield pop album which is so good that listening to it might just be the highlight of your life. Donning the alias The Pattern Forms, which the trio first adopted for Ghost Box’s Other Voices singles series in 2015, the band make a welcome return to the label with the synth heavy melancholy of Peel Away The Ivy. Ed Macfarlane’s vocals feature heavily in a mostly downbeat record which still manages to radiate with moments of pure disco joy. As mentioned earlier, team-ups and supergroups don’t exactly have a strong track record when it comes to making music, yet at times “Peel Away The Ivy” soars towards the heavens to look upon the divine. “Black Rain” is an early highlight, its slow bassline and 70s style synths merging perfectly with the vocals to create a track which sounds as timeless as the sun. Other picks include the tearful sigh of “Don’t Let Me Dream”, the wistful nostalgic haze of “Daylight”, the gorgeous slow build of “Polymer Dawn”, and The Orb style “First In An Innocent World”. Perfect from beginning to end, you owe it to yourself to hear this LP. 10/10.
An indie band with a dance sensibility, London trio Friendly Fires kept dancefloors twitching in the late ’00s before going extended hiatus. Now, two of the trio Ed Macfarlane and Edd Gibson have joined forces with Jon Brooks who, as The Advisory Circle, is one of the mainstays of hauntological English cottage label Ghost Box. Brooks’ hallmark is lush, dappled synths that evoke nostalgia and eerie disquiet. Here, they wrap around fully formed songs, like “Peel Away The Ivy”, which gesture to emotive ’80s synthpop and the gentle kosmische of Michael Rother. All very nice, but if you miss the wistful campfire reveries of The Beta Band , “Fluchtwege” should be your first port of call.
Before you get to “Man and Machine” – a perfect song, both catchy and phlegmatic like the New Wave of early 80s Bill Nelson – it takes a while to get the measure of what on the surface seems like a simple tribute to the more romantic, cultured side of synth pop. Beneath this the attention to detail that characterizes Ghost Box productions emerges; fragments of unearthly soundtracks and a sense of nature vs. culture. The band’s name conceals Ghost Box regular, Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle, Hintermass) and two of Friendly Fires (Ed Macfarlane and Edd Gibson – voices and instruments), who through the use of acoustic guitars and dilated time effects dissolve the pop component in an Arcadian opiate. Heralding, once again, of the triumph of the Great God Pan.
Prima di arrivare a “Man and Machine”, canzone perfetta nel suo essere insieme catchy e flemmatica e che pare uscita dal cilindro new wave del Bill Nelson primi ’80, ci si mette un po’ a prendere le misure di quello che in superficie sembra un semplice omaggio al lato piu romantico e colto del synth pop. Sotto, appena ci si sintonizza, emergono l’attenzione per il dettaglio che caratterizza le produzioni Ghost Box, frammenti di sonorizzazioni fuor di sesto, natura vs cultura. La sigla cela il solito Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle, Hintermass) e due Friendly Fires (Ed Macfarlane ed Edd Gibson, voci e strumenti), i quali sul finale, tramite chitarre acustiche e tempi dilatati che disciolgono la componente pop in una Arcadia oppiacea, ci fanno sapere che, anche questa volta, ha vinto il Grande Dio Pan.
Alessandro Besselva Averame