CHRIS CARTER – Chemistry Lessons Volume One (Mute Records 2018)


This was never going to be anything but intriguing. Although Chris Carter’s legacy as a synthesist is clear to anyone with an ounce of lateral thought, the wider scourge of documentary evidence still handles him and his associated musical endeavours as either punk era backwash or curious clot in the afterbirth that spawned the golden calf of British Synthpop.

7 years in the making, what we are presented with here is the isolated side of a master craftsman we rarely get to see – a celebration of musical DNA that spreads from Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire through psychedelic England, electronics mags, soldering irons and outward. Because the majority of his oeuvre has served highly experimental collaboration and leftfield group work, Carter has never quite been considered as a major contributor to the progress of electronic synthesis through the 1970s in a way that Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, Vangelis, Conrad Schnitzler or others might be. Yet it makes as much sense to retrospectively include him in such company as it does to drag him in for a post-punk sound bite every time some Simon Reynolds type wants to tell the world what to listen to.

CHEMISTRY LESSONS VOLUME ONE (aka CCCL volume 1) is a lot of wonderful things in one package – One hour and seven minutes of juicy synth glory flexing a musicality that encompasses industrial rhythm, dreamy psychedelic undulations, playful electronics and daunting muzak for elevators you’re never coming out of.

BLISSTERS is immediately something very familiar. It’s that specific sense of Chris Carter melody that continues into TANGERINES and sets up the album as the promise of a gratifying listen. CERNUBICUA, released as a teaser in February, utilises the same sort of synthesized vocal styles that the wonderful Threshold Houseboy’s Choir drenched itself in. These lurk at various stages throughout the album, and where Peter Christopherson’s employment of them was predominantly spiritual, here they are disarming and creepy in equal measures.

Six tracks in, MODULARITY is the first in a smattering of sections including DURLIN, LAB TEST, UYSRING exercising the grainy menace of old school Chris and Cosey. MOON TWO, the second promo track for the album, contrasts effectively with CERNUBICUA in demonstrating the sonic broad strokes of the album. A section from CORVUS to GRADIENTS is pure soundtrack, DUST AND SPIDERS in particular floating by like an incidental Blade Runner outtake. It’s the combination of small left-turns or perceived excursions various clumps of tracks take that really make this a compelling journey. As probably the most obvious example of this, GHOSTING, NOISE FLOOR and POST INDUSTRIAL acts as daunting cluster of sound that is very definitely cut off by REHNDIM taking the sound palate somewhere different.

Such is the unerring quality of everything that it definitely doesn’t feel like like 22 tracks have passed by the time the haunting and baroque TIME CURIOUS GLOWS drifts by. ARS VETUS & HOBBS END suggest that the album is going to terminate on a darker note than the set-up intended, but the final brief 1:59 mins of INKSTAIN is more of an Avant and pensive sliver of Wendy Carlos levity.

The beauty of CHEMISTRY LESSONS VOLUME ONE, especially considering the volume of material, is that everything is short and nothing begs to be skipped before unfolding and completing its intended cycle. This greatly contrasts 1999’s techno tinged SMALL MOON album with its long tracks and imposing beats dominating some of the material (although this is a very different album so perhaps comparisons are extraneous). Beautifully packaged to wink at the influence of sound library records, I am also particularly impressed by the album notes that very briefly explain the “instruments, disciplines and techniques” involved without listing a load of gear. Every electronic artist ever has the particularly pointless and irritating habit of doing this. If anything, this serves as the ultimate reminder that inspiration, not gear, makes wonderful enduring electronic music… and that Chris Carter has that inspiration in droves!

…other Chris Carter related reviews…

Carter Tutti Void – Transverse ( Mute 2012)

Cosey Fanni Tutti – Time To Tell ( 2017 CI)

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