Stuart Bailie takes a trip to Coney Island Sound's world, where Ewan Gordon indulges his inner Eno
Hello little fluffy clouds, hello twittering birds, hello sky. Hello Orb, Lemon Jelly and Ultramarine. Greetings Oliver Postgate and Stanley Unwin. Good to meet you Efterklang and Four Tet. And a pleasure to hear you again, Mr Harmonium, Mrs Dulcimer and Baby Piano. What a fine assemblage you are.
It’s all part of the excellent lightness that is Klang!, an album of found sound, child-like wonder, Arcadian electronica. Yes, and occasional voices, glitch-craft, simple Casio machines and toytown play. There is reason to smile, to feel rather giddy, to give yourself into the method that is Coney Island Sound.
Ewan Gordon is at the centre of things. Coney Island Sound has been putting out sporadic releases for some years now, including a single, ‘Introducing Mr Kellogg’ and some remixes with Alaska In Winter. Gordon sometimes appears with The Salt Flats, accompanied by Katie Richardson, Cara Cowan and Mark Gordon, taking gentle liberties with sea shanties and Fleetwood Mac.
But Klang! is a more persuasive notion. The record wouldn’t be possible without binary power, but this is not an album that revels in technology. Neither is it a dance record. The accent is on the high end, on the plangent, ringing spectrum. At times it sounds like Victorian piano roll. Then there’s a wibbling arpeggio or maybe a sampled, bemused voice. Try ‘Lemonade’ and imbibe that zesty fun as a laughing senior talks about the best summer juice.
In the old days, you might have termed this 'ambient'. Blame Alex Patterson and Brian Eno for opening up a proposition that was then explored by the KLF, Future Sound of London and scores of others. Many of these acts aimed to evoke a quiet rapture, a kindly potential in the machine. One of the best examples was Ultramarine and Every Man And Woman Is A Star, properly sublime and pastoral.
And it would seem that Klang! is in that tradition. If you're not initially impressed, then sit across the closing track, ‘Life In A Northern Town’, over ten minutes of sound impressions, piano accents, woodwind and stray conversations, nicely sustained.
Gordon lives in Northumberland these days, but once he was active in Belfast with Olympic Lifts, a combo with hip hop aspirations. They were well received in Germany and released a few decent tunes, but on a bad night, they looked somewhat embarrassed to be onstage, rhymin’ and stealin’ in borrowed clothes.
You might argue that the legacy of the Lifts has been with the subsequent projects: Documenta Drone Pop, Butternut, The Salt Flats, Score Draw, Palookaville and now Coney Island Sound. Certainly Gordon seems much more at ease in his current skin.
In a previous life, the track ‘Nautical By Nature’ may have been a wheezy hornpipe. Now it’s more dainty on its feet, moving onwards with counterpoint and rolling motifs, not dissimilar to the Penguin Café Orchestra. The folk influence carries well over the record. ‘Science And Health’ has an instrumental sweetness that would sit well with Nick Drake and those sunny stretches of Bryter Layter.
One of the uncharted influences on several generations of TV kids was the children’s shows narrated by Oliver Postgate. Of these Bagpuss was surely the most musically adept. The tunes of John Falkner and Sandra Kerr are deep in our souls, and when I hear the Gordon tune ‘Schroeder’s Cat’, I’m back there with the chiming mice and the naïve joy.
Coney Island is one of the great rock and roll destinations. For Lou Reed, if was the memory of old funfairs in southwest Brooklyn, doo wop and a few reliable friends. For Van Morrison, it was on a road trip with Ardglass, Downpatrick and Shrigley, steering for beauty and the trandscendent. Now there’s an alternative location. Not on any map that you would normally recognise. But worth a trip also.
Klang! is available to download from the Coney Island Sound website now.