Arcana & Idols of the Flesh: Ambience and Chamber-Prog with Swindon Composer Richard Wileman

One portion my nostalgia rarely serves, and that’s my once veneration for spacey sounds, apexed through the ambient house movement in the nineties, but not comprehensively; we always had Sgt Pepper, Pink Floyd and Hendrix’s intro to Electric Ladyland. I’ve long detached myself from adolescent experimentation of non-licit medications, lying lone in a dark bedroom chillaxing to mood music, and moved onto a full house of commotional kids; progress they call it.

Incredibly prolific, Swindon’s composer Richard Wileman might yet stir the memories, if these headphones drown out the sound of a nearby X-Box tournament. Best known for his pre-symphonic rock band Karda Estra, there is nothing vertical or frenetic about his musical approach. Idols of the Flesh is his latest offering from a discography of sixteen albums. Yet far from my preconceptions of layers of decelerated techno, as was The Orb or KLF, or psychedelic space-rock moments of my elders, which our own Cracked Machine continue the splendour of, Richard’s sounds with Karda Estra bases more orchestrally, neo-classical, as if the opening of a thriller movie. Though, so intense is this sound you need no images to provoke you.

Idols of the Flesh is dark and deeply surreal, with swirls of cosmic and gothic hauntings which drifts the listener on a voyage of bliss. Nirvana is tricky to pinpoint in my household, but with my ears suctioned to my headphones I jumped out of my skin upon a tap on the shoulder, daughter offering me some sweets! Momentarily snapped back in the room as if I’d surfaced from a hypnotist’s invocation, but aching to fall backwards into it once again.

Agreeably, this is not headbanging driving music, neither does it build like Leftfield for those anticipating beats to start rolling after a ten-minute intro, it simply drifts as a soundscape, perhaps coming to its apex at the eloquently medieval church organed Church of Flesh, one of two named tunes out of the six on offer, the others given part numbers. Then, with running water, the final part echoes a distant chant of female vocals as if a wind blowing across a sea for another eleven minutes, it’s stirring, incredibly emotive and perfected.

Along a similar, blissful ethos Richard Wileman served up Arcana in September this year, a third album this time under his own name. While maintaining a certain ambiance, it’s more conventional than his Karda Estra, more attributed to the standard model of popular music. It’s an eerie and spectral resonance, though, with occasional vocals which meander on divine folk and prog-rock; contemporary hippy vibes, rather than timeworn psychedelia. Released on Kavus Torabi’s Believers Roast label, a sprinkling of Byrds and Mamas & Papas ring through with an unmistakable likeness to a homemade Mike Oldfield. When vocals come into effect, with one guest singer Sienna Wileman, it’s astutely drafted and beguiling.

Select anything from the bulging discographies of Karda Estra or Richard Wileman and you’re onto a mood-setting journey, composed with expertise and passion. If ambient house is lost in a bygone era, this is reforming the balance of atmospheric compositions with modernism, so mesmeric it remains without the need for intoxication. Now, where did I stash my old chillum?! Probably in a dusty box in the loft with my Pete Loveday comics and some Mandelbrot fractal postcards….



A Cracked Machine at the Gates of Keras

Don my headphones, chillax with a cider, and prepare my eardrums for a new album from our local purveyors of space-rock goodness; Cracked Machine is a wild ride….

There are few occasions when mellowed music truly suspends me in the moment, when it just exists in the air like oxygen and totally incarcerates and engulfs my psyche. Jah Shaka and ambient house rascals the Orb both achieved this a couple of dusks at Glastonbury, but the same with likewise happenings, I confess I was intoxicated on matter maturity caused me to long leave in my past!

The issue for any reborn psychedelic-head is pondering the notion, will it ever be the same again, will music and art tease my perception to quite the same degree. The sorry answer is no, unless your intransigent mate slips something in your drink. Yet it’s not all despair, with a sound as rich and absorbing as Cracked Machine, it’s doable without drugtaking shenanigans.

They proved this at the most fantastic day in Devizes last year, which was that bit more fantastic, when what was intended to be a bolt-on feature became the highlight of DOCA’s Street Festival. Funded and arranged by Pete and Jacki of Vinyl Realm, the second stage highlighted everything positive about local music; a historic occasion we’ll be harking on for some time yet. I nipped away briefly after Daydream Runaways stole the early part of the day. But where the lively indie-pop newcomers had roused the audience, I returned to witness a hypnotised crowd and a mesmerising ambience distilling the blistering summer air. Smalltalk was numbed, as if the area was suspended in time. A doubletake to confirm we were still perpendicular, sitting in deckchairs or slouching against a wall on the corner of Long Street and St Johns and not slipped through a time vortex to a Hawkwind set at a 1970 free-party love-in. I was beyond mesmerised, but not surprised.

For this is how it was with their impressive 2017 debut album, I, Cosmonaut, the soundscapes just drifted through me, as I causally drafted the review, reminding me of a smoky haze of yore, giggling in a mate’s bedroom, listening to Hawkwind’s Masters of Universe. Youth of my era though, were subjected to electronic transformation in music, which would soon engulf us. Rave culture cut our space-rock honeymoon short, though, Spaceman 3 were a precursor to the ambient house movement of the Orb, Aphex Twin and KLF, others changed their style, like Frome’s Ozric Tentacles merging into Eat Static, and a perpetually changing line-up for Hawkwind appeased the older rock diehards.

I love I, Cosmonaut, it manages to subtly borrow from electronica and trance, only enough to make it contemporary, but keep it from being classed as anything else other than space-rock. I felt their second album, The Call of the Void avoided this slice of Tangerine Dream, and submerged itself totally in the hard rock edge; bloody headbangers! Therefore, it’s a refreshing notion to note newly released Gates of Keras bonds the two albums and sits between them perfectly.

Again, there’s little to scrutinise as it rarely changes, it meanders, trundles me to a world beyond wordplay, as these completely instrumental tracks roll into one another, gorgeously. A Deep Purple styled heavy bass guitar may kick it off, yet the opening track Cold Iron Light takes me to the flipside of Floyd’s Meddle, with seven and half minutes of crashing drums and rolling guitar riffs. Temple of Zaum continues on theme, Ozrics-inspired funkier bassline, and we’re off on the drifting journey, splicing subtle influences. The Woods Demon, for example, stands out for particularly smooth almost Latino guitar riff, making it my personal fave. Yet Move 37 is heavier, upbeat, like the second album. Low Winter Sun is sublime blues-inspired, imagine Led Zeppelin created Satisfaction rather than the Stones, if you will.

Recorded back in November, this is eight lengthy soundscapes of pure bliss, and will guarantee you a safe trip. A signature album for a lonely lockdown of dark, yet emersed in a time of Tolkien-esque vibes and mandelbrot set fractal posters. If this was released in the mid-seventies-to early-eighties every spotty teenager would be inking their army surplus school bag with a biro-version of Cracked Machine’s logo. As it is, age taking its toll and all, I have no idea if this still happens, but doubt it. None of that matters, here is a matured era of the genre, only with a glimpse of how it once was. Nicely done.