❉ In every dream home a heartache? Ange Chan on a collaboration between Neil Arthur from Blancmange and Gazelle Twin’s Bernholz.
“It’s a very difficult album to categorise and that’s no bad thing… This album is best aimed at pure synth freaks who like their synths a little off-beat and quirky; think early Human League, and John Foxx with touches of Enya and Cocteau Twins… Certainly different to anything I’ve heard in a long time.”
A couple of years ago Neil Arthur, of Blancmange fame, formed a detached musical partnership with Jez Bernholz, from Gazelle Twin, to produce Ideal Home via their collaboration project Near Future. Originally intended to be a one-off single, files were exchanged between the pair over the internet, which resulted in two tracks; Ideal Home and Overwhelmed. These compositions produced, were wildly contrasting; one icy and detached and one warm and hauntingly angry. Neil said at the time, “It just seemed really exciting. It didn’t even have to be music, it could just be sounds or words” and these switches of emotions seem to run through the album with detached aplomb.
Near Future’s sound is a lot more cleanly industrial with minimal, harsh synths, a million miles away from the insanely catchy tunes of the inevitable comparisons with Blancmange. The album is best heard to in its entirety for the listener to extract any kind of value or understanding from it, especially as the tracks mostly seem to run into one another. Detached and futuristic in places, it’s an interesting, quirky composition and worth at least one listen.
The opening title album track is extremely reminiscent of early Human League/John Foxx with crashing wave samples overlaid on stark modular synths and vocals that somehow don’t seem to fit the music. Very reminiscent of Human League’s The Dignity of Nature in its overall delivery. Field This, however, sounds more like a ‘song’ than a collection of sounds of the previous track, reminiscing on the past and repetitively referring to a period in time ‘pre-Madonna’ with wistful references ‘remembering when this site was a field’.
Overwhelmed is an overspill of the previous track and is startling in its starkness and shortness. Fish and Chips, an unlikely song title for the feel of this album, opens with over-speaking against a melancholic track of collective sounds, and is another interlude track as opposed to a song.
Thought Terminating in Your Night opens with another collection of rhythmic sounds with unedited voice sung/spoken morphing from calming sounds into gradually heavier synths and more distorted voice patterns and moving into the next track Come and Play, which has a more ‘Cocteau Twins meets John Foxx’ feels about it, as the album seems to move, albeit it temporarily, in a different direction with Enya-esque haunting voices and softer synth sounds.
Dawn is a track which starts serenely with tweeting birds and laughing children in a dreamlike state and ends with heavy drumming and nightmarish voices supplied courtesy of vocalist Bernholz, which will forever haunt you. Gap in the Curtain opens like a familiar synth track and you can’t help but feel encouraged by that. In fact, I had to check I hadn’t inadvertently jumped to an OMD album, I was expecting to hear Andy McClusky’s voice break out into the song, instead of Neil Arthur’s. It’s very OMD, and probably my favourite track on the album. Eminently listenable as a proper ‘song’ rather than a collection of sounds which the next track Kites Over Waitrose returns to the album’s form with, sounding like a Performance Art student’s end of first year project piece. I can almost see the contemporary dance accompanying the piece, leaving the baffled audience somewhat dismayed! This track certainly wins the prize for the most bizarre thing on the album.
Bulk Erase is the final track and you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment that you finally reached the end! However, the track leaves the album ending on somewhat of a high, with a hauntingly reflective song which reminds me of Vile Electrodes’ Deep Red. It’s my second favourite track on the album.
The overall album sounds very much like a ‘project’. I’m a bit confused by it to be honest, and I wouldn’t have a clue when I would feel inclined to listen to it in its entirety again. There are a couple of standout tracks, namely Gap in the Curtain and Bulk Erase which I would willingly listen to again.
It’s a very difficult album to categorise and maybe that’s no bad thing? Intentionally sounding like a cliché, the album takes you on a journey, but I’m more inclined to compare it to a delayed Network Rail service than first class travel. I’d definitely say though that this album is best aimed at pure synth freaks who like their synths a little off-beat and quirky; think early Human League, and John Foxx with touches of Enya and Cocteau Twins. There’s a certain detachedness to the album which confuses yet draws you in at the same time. Certainly different to anything I’ve heard in a long time. It’s good to be challenged musically, even in a genre which you think you’re pretty well-versed in. I’ll watch with interest at what comes next from this interesting duo.
❉ Near Future’s album ‘Ideal Home’ was released by Blanc Check Records on 25th May, and is available in vinyl LP and CD formats from https://nearfuture.tmstor.es
❉ A Near Future live show, including a Q&A session, will take place at The Institute of Light, 10 Helmsley Place, London E8 3SB on Thursday 6th September 2018. Click here for tickets https://www.wegottickets.com/event/440472
❉ Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel, “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in 2016. Her latest poetry collection “Songs of Sorrow and Heartbreak” was published in October 2017 and her third novel “Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots” is currently a work in progress.