Front & Follow’s ‘The Blow’ series is testament not only to the creative possibilities of collaboration but to the myriad ways in which it can happen. Two artists are given a loose brief that encourages them to work together in any way they like to deliver a finished product. This deliberate vagueness gives rise to intriguing results. In Volume 3, for example, what started off as a straightforward exchange between Sophie Cooper and Julian Bradley (prompted initially by a 2016 commission from the Supernormal festival) ended up as a whole new creative partnership, The Slowest Lift. Volume 5 went one better, documenting Sam Underwood and Graham Dunning’s burgeoning instrument-building partnership, with particular reference to the Mammoth Beat Organ, an awesome machine capable of all sorts of rhythmic chugs, airy hoots and slithering crunch.
If Volume 6 take a slightly more traditional approach to collaboration, the results are just as engaging. Drone-electro-synth wizards Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer take a side of tape each, crafting a suite of compositions based on conversations around alternate realities and altered states of consciousness. “The idea was to see what would happen if we both wrote from the same starting point, and came up with alternative interpretations of the same subject matter,” they say. Proper garden of forking paths, alright?
It’s an approach that mixes pluralism and openness to new ideas with the focus and consistency of individual work, resulting in two sets that retain the specific hallmarks of their originators’ practices while adding subtle new facets. Polypores, aka Stephen J. Buckley, has assembled gleaming synthetic textures that call back to classic electronic antecedents without wallowing in cheese. ‘The Colour of God’ smears wide-eyed melodic gloop over a lolloping dub-inflected rhythm, as if Tangerine Dream had stumbled through a west country rave after a night on the scrumpy and blunts. The appropriately-titled ‘Rapt’ ups the devotional awe, with questing lead lines gliding over a sawtooth monotone in proper floaty joy. Even though the suspended chords that propel its last third never quite break into full-on ‘Oxygene’ grooves, it’s all okay, as a gently falling swash carries us back to earth with no harm no foul.
These tracks don’t hang about, Buckley often doubling and echoing his canny melodic lines with sufficient élan to transform tracks into meditative ear worms. ‘Cortext Complex’ jams a little smidgeon of ‘Man Machine’-style echo-blip across moody low-end glide, before intertwined squelch riffs surge out like a grumpy pterodactyl soaring above an active volcano.
Co-pilot Field Lines Cartographer, meanwhile, takes the opposite approach, giving his compositions the space to seep and grow in mycelic drift. There’s no reduction in quality, mind, with Mark Burford (the human behind the moniker) deploying soundscape know-how and a keen awareness of clubland dynamics gained from his techno output as Impulse Array to maintain tension and interest. Cuts like ‘Modal Realism’ are smoggy and chilly, their dystopian ire balanced by enough machine melancholy to send your Voight-Kampf readings off the chart, even if the temperature is as cold as a wrecked attack ship on the shoulders of Orion.
‘Echoes In Time’ dials down the doom in favour of deadpan unease, with a stream of cosmic twinkles orbiting around lengthy, hollow whines. Signal strength remains strong, even as it floats inexorably away from inhabited galaxies and into the far depths. But if it’s resolution you want, submerge yerself in the slow build of ‘The Experience Machine’, in which Burford’s skilful use of phase provides more drama than a week of cheesy EDM drops. In just over seven minutes, heavy mellotron lungs are twisted gradually into a double dose gleaming chorale of sustain that’s pure frozen euphoria.