Thursday, May 28, 2020
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Oliver Coates: Shelley's On Zenn-La

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Artist: Oliver Coates
Title: Shelley's On Zenn-La
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: RVNG Intl.
Oliver Coates, who recently toured supporting Thom Yorke, has come up with a rather quirky concept to wrap this relatively short album. The title pays tribute to a genuine Stoke-On-Trent nightclub of the late 80’s and early 90’s (where acts like The Prodigy played), but reimagines it relocated onto the fictional planet of Zenn-La. It’s certainly original.

Sonically though, the tribute is from a subtly different era, and to my ear certainly seems more late 90’s. The soft, melodic, stepping electronica is reminiscent of Ultramarine or µ-Ziq, Aphex Twin in his mellower moods, or at times early Mr Scruff without the sense of humour. There’s almost no low-end kick or bass throughout, this is expression through synth melodies and high-end percussion only. At a time when we’re up to our ears in synthwave and 80’s retro, this feels like it’s staking a claim for reviving a less revisited sound.

There’s a stepping, uptempo-trip-hop flavour to tracks like “A Church” (featuring quite freeform vocal offerings from chrysanthemum bear) that’s quite endearing, and the off-kilter glitchiness and deceptive simplicity of “Cello Renoise” is a highlight. “Charlev”, with its steadier but still super-soft 4/4 kick, does touch on the 80’s but the meandering, jazzy, flutey synth lead line owes more to Planet Mu than classic synthpop. Final and longest piece “Perfect Apple With Silver Mark” is its own self-contained world of entrancing atmospherics and sun-bleached dream-techno, with an oddly abrupt end.

Though it claims to be channelling memories of raves and nightclubs, this is a lightweight, sweet, Sunday-afternoon-home-listening kind of electronica, and as such it’s quite rewarding and it’s got enough unusual ideas packed into 38 minutes to keep giving good value. A quaint anomaly.