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The Golden Age of Steam — Tomato Brain
(Bandcamp Limited Noise, 2020, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2020-12-09

Tomato Brain Cover art

Saxophonist James Allsopp is a member of both Snack Family and World Sanguine Report, and The Golden Age of Steam finds him in the leadership role of a band including Ruth Goller (bass, vocals), Time Giles (drums, electronics, vocals), Alex Bonney (electronics, vocals), and Kit Downes (keyboards, vocals). The album at hand takes its name from an Ivor Cutler song which they interpret, taking a brief, whimsical tune and working it into a highly experimental eight minutes of voices, sound effects, electronic strangeness, atmospheric organ, and wandering saxophone. But the bulk of Tomato Brain is in fact a piece called “Loftopus,” a half-hour composition which is divided into six parts. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to “Loftopus,” and I have to say that I’ve yet to get a handle on it. The pervasive sounds come from the electronics, with a noticeable resemblance to pre-digital experimental electronic music. Oscillators moan and bleep, filters wobble and sweep, and unidentifiable things echo in a spacious void; an indistinct voice speaks in the distance. In part 2, Allsopp’s sax and Goller’s bass play loosely coordinated parts, wandering melodies that avoid establishing a clear tonality while the electronics continue. As part 3 begins, a pedal tone emerges in the bass, and keyboard notes punctuate the upper frequencies, and it’s a little like early Pink Floyd in a very spacious free improvisation. The next part brings in the drums, with a minimalist beat that bass and droning synths join with. Eventually a kind of droning wall of notes emerges and the sax introduces a melodic phrase that gets echoed and fragmented by the bass. The energy slowly builds, with the drums adding in more elements and the sax getting more assertive, and organ joins in, creating an odd hybrid of spiritual jazz, space rock, and experimental electronics. When I said I haven’t got a handle on this music, I see that as a very good thing. There’s so much music in the world that sounds like things I’ve heard before that I’m very pleased to hear something really different, something new, even something odd and confusing.

Filed under: New releases, 2020 releases

Related artist(s): The Golden Age of Steam

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