Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Irsol - First Contact / Half life (2015)

Irsol's debut was possibly one of the first independent tapes I bought way back when I were a lad, and certainly one of the first which wasn't a compilation of various artists; or it could have been We Be Echo's Ceza Evi - I could look it up in my diary of the time, I suppose. Anyway, the detail that matters is that I had a flyer for First Contact, having written to Alan Rider who was then running the Adventures in Reality zine and label. I hadn't heard anything by Irsol, so I had no idea what I would get for my ₤1.50, and that was the appeal.

First Contact, when it dropped through the letterbox, sounded amazing to me - clearly a self-produced effort, cover seeming a bit like it might have been done on an etch-a-sketch or whatever primitive 5KB computers were available at the time, and yet the music sounded beautifully expensive compared to what I had come to expect from cassette artistes, beautifully expensive and not really quite like anything else I'd heard up to that point. Irsol cited Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire amongst their influences, as well as Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and other electronic acts of which I was then only dimly aware, and whilst I could hear some of these influences, none seemed to dominate or dilute. First Contact sounded like something really special, as did Half Life which appeared about a year later.

Now here they are again, the same tracks three decades later, lovingly pressed onto vinyl and still sounding as rich and - if you'll pardon me - darkly mellifluous as ever. Referring to the sleeve notes, I see we have an MS20, Roland TR606, the mighty Wasp, and a couple of Acorn computers, whatever the hell those were, so it's all pretty basic by contemporary standards; but the strength of Irsol lay in what they did with the tools at their disposal, how they managed to get the best out of each piece of equipment, forging wonderful, truly immersive soundtracks to imaginary films, half-remembered dreams, even the occasional Open University module. As with what little I've heard of Tangerine Dream, the magic is in the contrast of ornate melody with texture and use of effects, giving even the most innocuous ping of a 606 the rich faux-acoustic resonance of a live instrument. It may just have been three blokes with a load of wires and boxes, but to this day I'm yet to hear anything which does what the music on this album does quite so well.

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