❉ This is a fascinating evolution of the Sussex-based electronica musician’s sound, writes Stuart Douglas.
“I can’t recall hearing any drums in previous Kieran Mahon releases, and certainly nothing like the extent of the opening tracks on Eternal Return. With echoes of Can and, especially, Neu’s seminal Hallogallo, the motorik beat anchors a far punchier sound than we’re used to, but it’s a great double-handed start to the album, filled with energy and brio, a fabulous push-off on this latest journey.”
How you approach Kieran Mahon’s new release Eternal Return will depend, I suspect, on how much of his earlier work you’ve been exposed to. For newcomers, this is a superior slice of synthwave, that sub-genre of 80s-influenced electronic music which the Castles in Space label has recently dominated. For those with more experience of Mahon’s work, this will be both a mild shock and, after a bit of time, a fascinating evolution of his sound.
For a start, there’s drums!
But wait…best perhaps not to get too far ahead of ourselves. For the newcomers, Keiran Mahon is a St-Leonard’s based musician who specialises in drones and sound loops of every flavour, from long drawn out, almost hypnotic waves to komische (what we older types used to call Krautrock) style pulsing rhythms. With track lengths of 20 minutes not unusual and titles like ‘Jupiter Transit’, this is not an artist known for the short and snappy slices of funky dance music. There’s always a feeling in Mahon’s work of being on a journey of one sort or other, both explicitly in the titles – whether it’s physical (Jupiter Transit, (Descent) Voyage 2020 1.1.1, Hill. Stream. River. Sea.) or more metaphorical (Controlled Online Hallucination, A Gentle Meditation on the Collapse of Modern Civilisation) – and also in the music itself (listen to anything from these releases through headphones in the dark and you can’t help but be carried along on the waves and swells that Mahon creates). It’s a thoughtful catalogue of music, with a consistent mood and a palette which, though never formulaic, is sufficiently recognisable to add an extra layer of warmth for the regular listener.
All of that said, however, Mahon himself mentioned in his notes to RUOK, a release from May last year, that he felt he was ‘approaching a formula’ and that he had both transitioned to a new synth setup and taken inspiration from Kraftwerk (in the wake of the death of Florian Schneider) in an attempt to shake things up and avoid that. Though there have been a couple of releases since then (Two States and the superb, brooding The Burning World from just before Christmas), it’s only with Eternal Return that I think we’re really seeing the fruits of these changes. Where before everything was about long, slow journeys, with a certain uncertainty at its heart, from the title onwards, this album promises a more positive voyage, and a journey which ends back home.
Which brings us to the drums. I can’t recall hearing any drums in previous Kieran Mahon releases, and certainly nothing like the extent of the opening tracks on Eternal Return, Excursion and There’s no Point Returning. With echoes of Can and, especially, Neu’s seminal Hallogallo, the motorik beat anchors a far punchier sound than we’re used to, but it’s a great double-handed start to the album, filled with energy and brio, a fabulous push-off on this latest journey. Looking Glass, the next track up, reverts to a more traditional Mahon sound, filled with heavy, claustrophobic synth echoes, before This is This changes tone again, with the unmistakable influence of Kraftwerk coming to the fore. Our Zack has been described as the heart of the record, and there’s a definite playfulness and warmth to it which really switches up the mood of the record, a sense even that this is a midpoint and the Return from the album title is about to start.
Fur Zimmer is, for me, the standout track on the album. The title alone suggests this is going to be a komische-influenced piece and so it is – a little over six minutes of German influenced synth wonderment which I could happily have listened to for twice as long.
Closing the album on a suitably upbeat note is the titular Eternal Return, in which a collection of repetitive snippets collide, intermingle and disperse in perfect harmony, alongside the return of (muted) drum. It’s one of the great mysteries of music to me that some tracks just make you happy to hear them, and this is one such – it was only half way through listening to it that I realised I had a smile on my face.
There are a couple of bonus download only tracks, incidentally, for those who don’t plump for the physical release. Titled The Lake and Way Beyond, respectively, they’re both excellent, but a little darker than the preceding tracks and they would have disrupted the main release I think, and so were rightly were pushed to one side.
Eternal Return may be the product of lockdown, a grim time by any sensible measure, but it’s to Kieran Mahon’s great credit that, rather than allow that grimness to leech into his music, he’s actually used it as a building block for something altogether more positive.
This is a release which you will return to, again and again.
❉ Kieran Mahon – ‘Eternal Return’ (CiS068) is out now from Castles in Space, distributed by Forte Distribution. Available from the Castles In Space store as 12” White Vinyl w/Eternal Flexagon Kaleidoscope Insert. Digital Album available from Bandcamp: Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas