The Pattern Forms: ‘Peel Away The Ivy’ reviewed

❉ Stranger Things meets The Owl Service, with this latest long player from the Ghost Box stable.

It’s hard to really ‘discover’ a new album these days. The way that music is sold and consumed these days tends to stop anything from really being ‘new’. Any Velvet Underground-style discoveries of the future are more likely to be found in sleep-deprived trawls of forgotten SoundCloud accounts than in any record shop, even a really good one. It’s perhaps fitting that ‘Peel Away The Ivy’, the full length debut by ‘The Pattern Forms’ feels like an album meant to be found by accident, perhaps left covered in brown leaves underneath a haunted tree somewhere with a cryptic note attached to it. It sounds like a dispatch from another time, another place.

The band, comprised of Ed McFarlane and Edd Gibson of ‘Friendly Fires’ and Jon Brooks from ‘The Advisory Circle’ released their first single Fluchtwege on Ghost Box records in February 2015. A gorgeous slice of pastoral melancholy, all barely-there vocals, skeletal acoustic guitar, keening synths, and dewy atmosphere, it set out their stall nicely. Inspired by the British countryside and the band’s collective interest in library music, it evoked a bygone time that may not even have existed with its dusty synths. It sounded somehow familiar, but nothing you could quite put your finger on. “You’re the light on a deserted hill/You flicker like a fuzzy camera reel” sings McFarlane. He could be describing The Pattern Forms’ music.


Now, after a long gestation, here’s the full album. The brief title track’s a tiny vignette of distressed tape, with what sounds like the soundtrack to ‘The Owl Service’ trying to break through. It’s over as quickly as it begins, and the oddly anthemic Black Rain kicks in, all big synth hooks and soaring vocals. It’s like the ‘Big Music’ of the 80s, if it was made in the country. Its twin, five tracks later, is Man and Machine, another catchy one, which trucks along nicely with McFarlane’s doleful murmurs on top of that kind of shuffle beat that Michael Jackson became a bit obsessed with on ‘Bad’.

The other tracks are simply very pretty – romantic, languid pop songs, dressed up with McFarlane’s ethereal vocals. The pair of instrumentals slotted between these carry on the mood, and the extended intro of the closing First In An Innocent World unfolds from a Boards of Canada/Four Tet bit of bubbling atmosphere into a folky reel.

Left to Right: Brooks, Macfarlane, Gibson (Photo: Andrea Zvadova & Jim Jupp, Ghost Box, 2016)

It’s hard to pigeonhole what exactly The Pattern Forms sound like, but you’ll know it when you hear it. This isn’t what they used to call Folktronica, but it’s not OMD either. There’s not much guitar bar some spindly picked acoustic here and there. The warm analogue synths dominate, and it sounds very similar in places to the recent soundtrack to ‘Stranger Things’. It certainly evokes wide open spaces. Perhaps the key to it is that it’s outdoor music.

It’s good that they waited until Autumn. Albums don’t get much more autumnal. You can hear the wobble and crackle of the synths, there’s occasional wow and flutter in the background. You get a real sense of the leaves, the ivy, the warm sun meeting a cool breeze.

It’s good weather to go take a walk, and discover a great album.

❉ ‘Peel Away the Ivy’ is out now from Ghost Box as a CD, LP, limited edition coloured vinyl LP and Download.

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