Yes Blythe/Swaggerjack/John Powell-Jones: Live at Cafe Oto


Sacred Tapes cassette and download

Part of a Sacred Tapes showcase night at Café Oto last summer, side A of this tape is a double header with a difference from Callum Higgins and John Powell-Jones. Higgins starts things off in his Yes Blythe guise, conjuring up sounds that are half-mischievous, half-mysterious. Deep stringy reverberations are criss-crossed by a network of hollow, percussive scrapes, with dull clacks and echoey vibrations meshing together in cosmic unity. Picture Alice Coltrane jamming at the bottom of a well with some mic’d up rodents, and you’re edging towards the right ashram, Higgins’ unhurried pace a major contributor to the oceanic new-age improv vibe.

On its own, this would be pretty good. I’m a sucker for a Yes Blythe jam ever since I grabbed the righteous grooves of 2014’s Initiate Screen Prevails from Tesla Tapes’ own Paddy Shine a year or so ago. But Higgins is soon joined by John Powell-Jones, the duo transforming themselves into Swaggerjack without missing a microtone, pushing the edges of their amniotic vibrations further out in all directions. Things get a bit scrapey halfway through, with the liquid gloop hardening into a tapestry of rusty creaks and weary clangs. The texture here is more rugged, the mood more aggressive. Feedback hoots are juxtaposed with low end echo-chamber rumbles that are positively dubwise, inna kind of industrial way.

Although I attended that show in Dalston, I can’t actually remember exactly when the transitions occurred, nor much about the duo’s kit that enabled them to generate such mysterious noises. No matter. The seamlessness of the performance was a definite plus, a touch of stagecraft emphasised by its deliberately un-showy nature. At some point in the final third of that performance (and this track), Higgins creeps away and Swaggerjack morphs into a Powell-Jones solo set, channelling the plaintive analogue synth vibes that characterise his ongoing Abyss project. Arrhythmic drum kicks and hissing snare-like rasps punctuate doomy chords, with the odd squelch and cloud of fuzz scrubbing down its oily surfaces, while strafing runs of phase make things nice and goggle-eyed.

The flipside is another joint performance by the duo. Created originally for The Wire mag, it is a stormier beast, a dense assemblage of low-end grind and corrugated iron batter. The first section is driven by a heartbeat pulsation that ratchets up the oppressive tension, the soundtrack to an approaching horror. When we finally run out of road, it’s not a release, exactly, more an absence, as the beat drops out and we’re left with a disembodied blitz of noise and errant synth buzz. As waves of glitch and white noise thrash around, the synth chords carry on regardless, seesawing with a fist-on the-keyboard cackhandedness. And this is how it continues, a gleefully destructive two-chord frenzy that gets heaped with more electronic squiggles and huffs until Higgins and Powell-Jones either lose interest or use up all their hard-disc space. Whatever. Sounds like a fun afternoon, anyhow.



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