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PHANTOM LIMB

Richard Skelton

Selenodesy

    Essential UK experimental composer Richard Skelton returns to Phantom Limb for new album selenodesy, interweaving his newfound love of electronics and synthesis with mastery of gritty organic texture.

    Skelton’s music has always been rooted in landscape, in the loam and grit of the earth: from his 2009 Pennine Moors-inspired modern classic Landings to his more recent Moraine Sequence of geological excavations, his work has been bound inexorably with the stark and untended wilderness of northern landscapes. With this new album, however, Skelton shifts his gaze skyward — in part the result of a move in 2017 to the countryside near the Kielder Observatory, and to a so-called ‘dark sky’ region of the UK. In this remote landscape, light pollution is minimal, allowing the austere majesty of the night sky to be seen with greater clarity.

    The resulting album, selenodesy, reveals a new, reverberant spaciousness to Skelton’s use of electronics. It marries the twin worlds of his previous Phantom Limb release - 2020’s These Charms May Be Sung Over A Wound, and its abandoned-factory threnody - with the landscape-revering arcana of his earlier work, which saw him bury instruments in the soil to return months later to recover and record with them, newly imbued with the land they occupied. selenodesy was prefigured by a period of insomnia and the relief found in stargazing, during which Skelton tried to transcribe his hypnagogic visions: “much of this music came to me in the early hours, in that nowhere state between dreaming and waking. I’d look out the window and the night sky would be swirling with stars. Mars or Venus would be hovering in the corner of the room. I’d lie there and watch the Aurora Borealis dance across the ceiling.”

    In selenodesy, we find the lingering, distorted sine waves of album opener “Albedo” that thrum and fizz with an icy, foreboding moonlight, rays of subtle movement that illuminate and darken alternately. Next follows lead single “The Plot of Lunar Phases”, whose passive shrieks echo about a cold, yawning space, reaching an ecstatic crescendo of hissing sonics and swirling celestial drone. Its dynamic range acts like the light of a lunar passage, from utmost darkness to radiant luminosity. Elsewhere, the pulsing, precessional bass of “Faint Ray Systems” gradually opens to reveal mournful, elegiac synthesis that reaches high into the night sky with an unearthly beauty. It is as if, during those long months of lockdown in the Scottish countryside, Skelton tapped into a series of sidereal electromagnetic transmissions, and transposed them into musical form.


    TRACK LISTING

    A1. Albedo View
    A2. The Plot Of Lunar Phases
    A3. Faint Ray Systems View
    A4. Isostasy View
    B1. Hypervelocity View
    B2. Impact Theory View
    B3. Lesser Gravity View
    B4. Fallback View

    Loraine James

    Building Something Beautiful For Me

      Celebrated UK producer Loraine James joins Phantom Limb for breathtaking homage to vital NYC composer Julius Eastman, reinterpreting, reimagining and responding to key works for a brand new album.

      In 1990, the composer Julius Eastman quietly passed away, out of the spotlight, a young man. By his death substance-addicted, homeless and broke, he was unforgivably overlooked in his lifetime. Still, the legacy of creative work he leaves is far more befitting to celebration than destitution. Only a portion of his music remains - a deeply regrettable sidenote to an already heartbreaking story - but this work represents a glorious and beautifully hued depiction of a composer totally in step with any modern great we could name.

      Phantom Limb are long-term fans of both Eastman and Loraine James. Using their rare, fortuitous connection with Julius’ surviving brother Gerry, the label began this new project in summer 2021, hoping to continue the current tide of efforts to reinstate Eastman’s rightful place in 20th-century composition. Loraine was offered a zip drive of Eastman originals (courtesy of Gerry Eastman), Renee Levine-Packer & Mary Jane Leach’s illuminating biography Gay Guerilla (University of Rochester Press, 2015), and transcribed MIDI stems (courtesy of Phantom Limb A&R James Vella), and the resulting album Building Something Beautiful For Me carries the Eastman torch with finesse and sensitivity. Loraine employs samples, melodic motifs, themes and imagery, and inspiration from Eastman’s canon, slicing, editing, pulling apart and playing samples like instruments to craft a stunning album that venerates Eastman’s genius while adhering to her own.

      Speaking in similar tongues as young, gay, Black, independent creatives in a challenging environment, the two musicians are bound closely together, despite a six-year gap between their lives ever intersecting. James includes the original Eastman title in many of her tracks, appending the source material in parentheses to mark the lineage of the work - a clear, traceable thread from the heavenly to the sublime.

      Album opener “Maybe If I” riffs on Eastman staple Stay On It. Its arrestingly pretty central melody is reshaped into a living, undulating canvas on which James’ IDM-inspired beat production flickers and swirls. A repeated vocal line pulls Eastman’s towering work of modern minimalism towards reclassification as a “song”. Next follows “The Perception of Me (Crazy N–)”, channelling Eastman’s righteous anger and knowing reclamation of the brutally charged N-word into a quasi-ambient exploration of Eastman piano samples set to skittering beats. Elsewhere, opening side B, “Enfield, Always” acts as a creative response to our past master. While Eastman purposefully, slyly intermingled Uptown NY’s stuffy professionalism with Downtown’s loose fervour, Loraine is a London artist, bound into her locale with the same honour and justified sentimentality as Eastman was with his. And like Eastman, the track’s heady percussion and ecstatic arpeggios contrast intentionally with its austere backdrop.

      In keeping with key Eastman codes, Phantom Limb engaged Black creatives to complete the record, including acclaimed designer Dennis McInnes for the album packaging, which is inspired by Eastman’s marginalia on his own (surviving) manuscript pages: “we sought to visually convey the complexity of what we may see as beautiful, how beauty is misunderstood and often lies beneath the surface.”

      TRACK LISTING

      A1 Maybe If I (Stay On It)
      A2 The Perception Of Me (Crazy Nigger)
      A3 Choose To Be Gay (Femenine)
      A4 Building Something Beautiful For Me (Holy Presence Of Joan D'Arc)
      B1 Enfield, Always
      B2 My Take
      B3 Black Excellence (Stay On It)
      B4 What Now? (Prelude To The Holy Presence Of Joan D’Arc) 


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