Philip Jeck’s “Sand”

A couple of weeks ago, I was writing here about the excellent new No Age album, and about indie orthodoxy masquerading as somehow adventurous in the world of shoegazing. Without going over the whole argument again, I think the gist was that early ‘90s shoegazing - which mainly sounds so bland now - acted as a gateway for me into a whole world of ambient, avant-garde music.

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A couple of weeks ago, I was writing here about the excellent new No Age album, and about indie orthodoxy masquerading as somehow adventurous in the world of shoegazing. Without going over the whole argument again, I think the gist was that early ‘90s shoegazing – which mainly sounds so bland now – acted as a gateway for me into a whole world of ambient, avant-garde music.



I was reminded of this last week by two things. One, the arrival of an album by a band called Sennen, which I must admit I haven’t heard, but the premise of someone naming themselves after a Ride song fills me, in 2008, with very little excitement. Two, the arrival of “Sand” by Philip Jeck, which is precisely the sort of expansive, challenging, ultimately aesthetically satisfying record that shoegazing inadvertently lead me to.

I have a few Jeck records, most recently his collaboration with the great Gavin Bryars on a new version of the latter’s “Sinking Of The Titanic” (LTM are releasing some Bryars work from the early ‘80s, incidentally, including some beautiful piano studies). Jeck is one of those avant-gardists who loiters awkwardly between the roles of musician and sound artist, seeing as he builds his music out of old records and record players.

He isn’t the first person to fetishise balls of fluff on old gramophone needles, of course: Portishead made a fortune out of distorting old hip hop breaks on their first album, after all. But for Jeck, the surface is the depth, so that “Sand” is a disorienting patchwork of static, churn and drift, out of which faint melodies – a familiar but unnameable orchestral vamp in the middle of “Chime Again”, for instance – sometimes emerge.

It’s hard to write about this sort of music without making it sound a bit forbidding, but – to use that shoegazing analogy – imagine the gauzy textures of My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” reconstructed using radically different instruments, and moved even further away from the idea of a conventional tune.

The results are immersive and pretty revitalising, first thing on a Monday morning. I guess Jeck’s nearest reference point, even though he uses guitars rather than customised record players, would be his labelmate Christian Fennesz. Fennesz has a similarly voluptuous approach to noise, a taste for soiled ambience, and a gift for creating illusions of memory through his music. Jeck’s aged crackle, and the hints of half-unremembered tunes buried beneath it, create a kind of nostalgia for . . . what, exactly? Something nebulous, evanescent, a bit pretentious. Maybe for the days when, briefly, Slowdive sounded radical to me. . .

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