Computers are brilliant, aren’t they? I am of that golden generation of tech-obsessed lovelies that witnessed the acceleration in cutting edge technology (“One day, there will be one of these on every street!” enthused the man taking me on a work-experience tour of a local oil company HQ and the entire, one-room floor of the building that housed their supercomputer, before also telling us that “Unleaded Petrol will never catch on”) from a time when candles were a common household sight right up to the thing that I am tapping this out on. The downside to this increasing desire for the next thing is that there’s at least a couple of decades’ worth of last things that have been largely cast by the wayside, along with the attitudes of wonder that used to accompany them. Deep Blue’s predicament is probably the most high-profile example of this: after beating Grand Master Gary Kasparov over six chess matches and being declared the greatest computer to have ever existed, it is now part of United Airlines’ Seating and Purchasing Strategy which by all accounts it does wonderfully, but does have a penchant for seating parties of clergymen in diagonal lines. I’m here all week.
It’s therefore a joy see a trend of musicians and listeners to look back to the heady days of otherworldly synthesised music from an age where studio engineers actually wore white lab coats and the best sonic discoveries were made my mucking about with leads and switches rather than by focus groups and design teams.
Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services, headed up by the mysterious Head Technician, exists in a place where everything in Tomorrow’s World came true and science was childishly exciting. I’m suspecting that this new resurgence in excitement about science, particularly in a generally astronomical sense, has brought on a renaissance in the interest in analog, almost antique musical creation. More than a few of my favourite records this year have shared this same boffinesque approach to entertainment and it’s an approach I’m happy to embrace.
To be honest, I’m still trying to work out which came first: my resurging infatuation with John Carpenter films or my reacquaintance with the sort of stuff that John (and Alan Howarth) used to score his unique movies with. Either way, Sleep Games comes across as direct progeny of Carpenter and Howarth’s creations - The Black Mill Video Tape especially could have come direct from the screen of Prince Of Darkness. The sound itself is suitably and reassuringly synthesised in the way that everything was in the early 1980s, with a scientific richness of tone that will bring moments of joy to anyone (such as myself) blessed with occasional synaesthesia.
As will all the best proponents of the art, Pye Corner Audio isn’t po-faced about the whole thing. There’s a great sense of play at work here, even in some of the more creepy/paranoic pieces (which is possibly most of them) where the grey decade of my recollection is perfectly scored with a curious warmth, and quirkier parts such as the aptly-titled Experimental Road Surface and the disquieting Remanence have an impish “what happens if I do this?” about it. There’s even a bit of actual pop nostalgia floating among the downbeat grooves here, with the sad-sounding Yesterday’s Entertainment, Cosmos-inducing Nostalgia Pills and the wonderful closing Nature Reclaims The Town, during which it’s almost impossible not to whistle Dear Prudence over the track.
Sleep Games is an incredibly easy record to like, as every element of it is quite simply likeable. The quality of sound and selection of how that sound is presented has a patina that has had much care embellished upon it, and even the more experimental pieces come across as being created to be shared rather than filed away. The whole aesthetic of PCA is like that of Boards Of Canada’s where the whole universe created around the music is authentic to itself from the core of the tunes, through the slightly psychedelic cover artwork referencing every sociology/economics textbook I ever read, right to the blog posts of the Head Technician himself. It’s a complete package that is not just fun, it’s also interesting. And “interesting” entertainment is something I will always be drawn to and something that I can’t hesitate to recommend to everyone.