Music Reviews

Artist: Phase Conductor (@)
Title: Conditions
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Chinese calligraphy masters take years to cultivate their art form to the point that they draw characters with one stroke and a minimum of revision, if any. Mike Matheson, who for years produced as Beef Terminal, has reached a kind of mastery where his tracks are now casual yet masterful strokes. Matheson created a world of brooding yet melodic guitar over drum machine beats, liberally seasoned with field recordings of rambling inebriated party attendees, religious sermon culled from the radio and captured conversations from mobile phones that still used analog signals. Beef Terminal tended to have darker overtones, melancholic instrumental drama, and at times a kind of anxious solitude, yet within all this is also its beauty and strength. The Beef Terminal was always able to evoke emotions felt long after the disc played and Conditions is no exception. I would go so far as to call it the missing album. In some ways, Conditions is more low-fi than Matheson’s previous efforts with discernible tape saturation, cable hiss, equipment hums, with the exception of 20GOTO10 (2000), his debit solo album. A point of departure is how varied Conditions sounds. Tracks like “Fourth” and “Long Ride” could have been outtakes off of Further or New Lands by Flying Saucer Attack and all that is missing are the haunting vocals of Rachel Brook or David Pearce. FSA are not so much influences as descriptive touch stones, though the two projects share similar approaches to recording. In the early days, FSA would record onto VHS tape via home stereo whereas Matheson records onto cassette, as he elaborates, “I did much of this album outside the computer, or if I started in the computer I would output it usually to my SP404 or OP-1 and use on-board filters there, which is where some of the hiss came from but for a lot of tracks I bounced them to cassette. Besides that I spent most of last year just making these songs with no real plans to release them or anything but once I got them together I enjoyed listening to them so I thought it might make a good “album”. Basically the criteria for music making for me in 2016 was that it had to feel good doing it, and doing things on computer had become so boring and sterile I had to come up with some other ways to do things, which I’ve done and now I’ve continued making tunes this way and have been far more prolific than ever, working super fast, barely any overdubs or editing, I just do these tracks and move on. Sort of how I did 20 GOTO 10 actually. Way more enjoyable.” Indeed, much of Matheson’s work is immersed in the glitch in ways that would do early Aphex Twin proud with “Pooling”, Rplanet”, and “RCA” which are more ambient excursions that recall Selected Ambient Works Vol 2. That is not to say that all of conditions is low-fi, as “Rounded”, “Sorting”, and “Sorting 2” come off as more crisp electronic ambient productions. A personal favourite is “Discleaves” for it’s 90’s-era melodic electronica feel more at home in a Warp or Delsin records retro-compilation. “Backlook” is firmly in early Beef Terminal territory with fragments of audio sample’s from 2003’s The Isolationist and could be an outtake, even. Mathesons’ artistry is certainly there, though somewhat curious, if we follow the calligrapher analogy, that he picks more worn parchment as his medium, so to speak. But that is Matheson’s aesthetic where he fully understands the production rules and breaks it to make his melancholic musical statements that have all the charm of faded and aged photographs or film, emotional fragments that encapsulates memory.

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