Revel highlights a very special album this week, our favourite sonic rocketeer Gareth Bury, aka beatmaker/producer Asthmatic Astronaut has released the artful electronic opus Washed Away, an inventive album that presents twelve compositions that are experimental in tone, pushing the boundaries of cinematic, instrumental hip-hop in their structure, tempo and mood.
A hidden gem that was created years ago, but shelved due to the unfurling of life events and a shift in Gareth’s creative perspective, Washed Away is a return to the creative process, and an elegiac love letter to beat production as a way of life.
Bury found himself digging deep in order to find and acknowledge the essence of the compositions. His ever-evolving creative flow was augmented by the collaborative expertise and vision of audio engineer Ben Robb at Roxborough Studio (some might recognise him as the drummer from Bury’s band dust, or cult post-rock cherubs TOKAMAK).
Founder of boutique, cassette-focused label This Is Not Pop and co-founder of Scottish music collective Black Lantern Clan, and the production lynchpin behind legendary live rap crews Underling and CHURCH OF WHEN THE SHIT HITS THE FAN, Bury’s journey in Scottish music has been long, and at times complex.
The aptly titled album Washed Away feels like a cleansing. To release it, Bury had to do away with any apprehension or frustration with the music industry, and the difficulties he faced trying to find a label to release the album once it was finally finished. This process, while frustrating, proved empowering. Bury’s resourceful thinking led him to set up This Is Not Pop, and once again harness the power to gain control over his own creative output. Washed Away is the product of that process, and in some ways it is a deeply-felt instrumental reflection on modern music and the role of the creator.
This is beatmaking as high-concept sonic sculpture…
Asthmatic Astronaut delivers intoxicating arrangements that gush with inventive instrumental surprises. His vast back catalogue is packed with moments of brilliance, but here he delivers sonic ideas with an impulsive flare, experimenting acrobatically with the structural flow of his compositions.
There is a magnificent melodic fluidity, never losing the immediacy of each synth-jamming groove. Soaring patterns of interlocked melody are as infectious as they are harmonious. He creates strains of sporadic tension, occasionally lurching into the kinds of organic, percussive beats that shape-shift and tumble like sublime jazz solos. This is beatmaking as high-concept sonic sculpture.
Perhaps these sounds could be an expression of the intensity of change, an admission of how little control we have over events in our lives. A celebration of rhythm, disharmony, melody and raw, head-nodding beats, Washed Away does indeed feel driven by the prodigious tidal force of ocean waves.
While he draws on no one producer’s sound, Asthmatic Astronaut has created his own unique reading of the Wave genre, lending it something deeper, more organic; in some way more authentic. It feels like he uses the electronics in an impressionistic way. His synth lines are more real, his beats in synchronization with the blood that courses through his veins.
Opener Waves sets the mood with great depth, with a hollowed-out synth bassline accompanied by an exhilarating lead melody that slowly crescendoes, full of anticipation and deeply resonant. It’s a moving, ethereal opener, channeling some of the scale and drama of peak-time Pink Floyd.
The more mechanical-sounding Back From The Future has notes of Squarepusher’s scribbled, sporadic tempos. Energy just bounces through the speakers, with a sinuous bass chopped and spliced around a clever structure. Fusing elements of wave with acid undertones, while channeling some of the energy of drum and bass, it’s a technical masterclass.
There is a magnificent earthiness to the bass synth tones in tracks such as Tranquil In The Middle, which delivers bright, crisp synths that tingle and burn with a delicate feather-touch melody, evoking sunlight streaming through tinted glass.
The infectious That Boom Zap feels like it might be paying a small homage to early 90s EBM, which is a deep cut into some truly engaging retro electronics. Throughout, mercurial flourishes like this display Bury’s deep musical knowledge and passion.
Our favourite track here at Revel is Must Change Situation, a melodic and uplifting track with a gentle strut in its tempo, and an almost poetic sensibility in its structure. Like the album as a whole, its beautiful atmosphere lingers, like a fond memory that keeps being replayed in the mind’s eye.
These tracks offer depth enough for serious contemplation, rather than a simple sonic impression. Pick up on the many tones and influences of Asthmatic Astronaut’s music for yourselves, and you’ll find yourself setting out on a very special journey.