HAWKSMOOR – HAWKSMOOR (Negative Drive Records 2018)

Hawksmoor

As a long-term enthusiast of what could be loosely termed Berlin school electronics, my ears are constantly peeled for contemporary material observing the original gene pool as a reference point, but not inbred into it to the point where there is nothing of interest left. So it’s somewhat of a treat to discover two different but relative offerings in one week in the form of U.E.F by The Oscillation and Hawksmoor’s self titled release. Where The Oscillation holds tight to traditions of lengthy arpeggiated passages, Hawksmoor does something free flowing, somewhat esoteric and arcane in its delivery but all the more fascinating for it.

What’s on offer here is a somewhat haunting dedication to the baroque architectural glory of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s London churches. It appears that a number of period fictional works stoked the fire to suggest that the styles and motifs of these churches evidenced occult freemasonry, paganism, Theistic Satanism and general underhanded mockery of Christianity – all the fun stuff. Whatever the truth of it all, the album makes no specific verbal claims to add fuel to the fires of legend. Instead, the track titles are mostly the names of the churches and their years of construction. If the artist is trying to tell us something as subtext… well, that’s all hardcoded into the soundtrack…

The opening track, ACT FOR THE BUILDING OF FIFTY NEW CHURCHES IN THE CITIES OF LONDON AND WESTMINSTER 1711, represents the commission of which these churches were part. The track builds echoing percussive layers and ebbing synths as a base for brief melodic phrasing before receding. ST ALFEGE CHURCH, GREENWICH (1712–18) strikes a different path where a kinetic rhythm is the dominant detail. CHRIST CHURCH, SPITALFIELDS (1714–29) contrasts washy and flat synths with a wonderful understated melody from the halfway point. While nothing outstays its welcome on the album, this in particular had plenty more life in it. ST. ANNE’S LIMEHOUSE (1714–30) ups the creepy with synth growling and an underpinned bass line – a perfect example of where this album works its subtleties with expertise.

GEORGE IN THE EAST (1714–29) takes the album somewhere different with a restrained chiming intro and heavy echoes of melody (sounding very much like a guitar) leading the track to its conclusion. ST. GEORGE’S BLOOMSBURY (1716–1731) uses choral synthetics to drape a haunting presence on itself and ST. MARY WOOLNOTH (1716–23) is probably the nearest to a traditionally sequence led piece that this album contains. At 6:20 minutes, ANNO DOMINI 1736 is the longest track here and arguably the most complete single section of music. As with everything else, it’s a slow burner, but is drenched in minute detail and transitions multiple ideas throughout its duration. I’m not sure what the purpose of calling THE MAUSOLEUM (1729–40) a “hidden track” is – it’s a throwback to the sulky adolescence of CD manufacture… either the track is worthy of being included or it’s not. This is acoustic led and provides quite the contrasting and pastoral end to the album.

For this listener, HAWKSMOOR has a strange symbiosis with John Foxx’s MY LOST CITY (2009). That was a record deep in a fetish of Ballardian city dereliction, but delivered in a very Baroque and uniquely English manner. In thematic consideration of what’s offered up here, it all seems very fitting. Undoubtedly, there are a range of dynamics on this that reveal a large part of its schooling as resolutely Germanic and 1970s, but somewhere in the gyre of references, the marriage of sonic legacy and architecture make perfect sense. After all, Tangerine Dream recorded RICOCHET at Coventry Cathedral and was at home performing live at Union Chapel in London – There’s a logical precedent to it all and the balance of lineage and location comes full circle.

In it’s purest sense HAWKSMOOR definitely leans toward an ambient album, but probably has little in common with the obvious trends of glacial screes and explorations of most modern ambient artists, or post techno, post-post whatever artists that litter said genre. This album’s elegant but subdued detail and slow decaying sheets of sound doing their own thing in their own time, oblivious to anything other than the task at hand. As is expected, this is a synergic body of music and digesting the full album in one go is how it works best…

Get it here…

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