Review: The Telescopes ‘Experimental Health’

Browsing through Bandcamp one day last month, hoping to stumble upon tasty morsels of heavy psychedelic drone weirdness, or whatever my ‘latest favourite genre’ was that week, I was jolted into an early-nineties reverie (in the words of James ‘LCD’ Murphy, I was there!) by a familiar name – The Telescopes.

The Telescopes 'Experimental Health' Artwork
The Telescopes ‘Experimental Health’ Artwork

Scrabbling through the dust-coated archive that is my memory (and aided by Professor Wiki) I recalled a band of admirably large and wild hair playing droney space rock in a Loop-ish vein. Now, this was never really my bag, much more the territory of my better half, but, y’know, tastes change as we mature… or at least grow older, and spacey-drone rock definitely tickles this old man’s buds. Knowing that The Shaman often gets Cold Spring delicacies for review, I banged out a quick email requesting that I be the chosen one to guide other Shamanistas through The Telescopes’ latest offering, Experimental Health.

According to the Cold Spring’s blurb, this latest sonic missive from The Telescopes ‘combines hallucinatory ballads with transcendent melodies, clanging, and lo-fi buzzes, with a substantial amount of crushing and sound degradation’, and from the off this proves to be true. Because They Care introduces itself with a beautifully textural granular drone, gradually introducing a circular riff before the vocal line climbs up through the haze and the drum loop establishes a simple rhythm. The quietly insistent electronic drumbeat throughout lends the music of Experimental Health a metronomic lockstep that mixes a welcome narcotic layer into an already hypnotic sound whilst corralling it into a rigidly fixed pattern.

The liner notes (remember when they were a physical thing, an artefact?) tell us that Experiment Health was made with broken toys and cheap synths – mostly Pocket Operators and miniature synths, and this certainly shows as true on The Turns. Aside from the vocal (more on this later), this sophomore track puts me in mind of that heinous charlatan who calls himself The Arch Drude, evoking, as it does, his predilection for archaic and anachronistic synths, and children’s toys.

When I Hear The Sound is a glorious trudge through a sonic soup whose base appears to be codeine linctus. The vocal is a sleep-drenched line, struggling to make itself heard through its own clipping, almost-tech recording. Stephen Lawrie’s vocals across the whole album are those of a man who has recorded them whilst being dragged from an opiate-induced slumber, a song sung whilst under the weighted blanket of a hypnopompic state.

a glorious trudge through a sonic soup whose base appears to be codeine linctus…

It takes one idea and stretches it out for a little over two loop-tastic (rather than Loop-tastic), hypnotic minutes. I could listen to a fourteen-minute epic opus of this exquisite riff. Who knew that sub-technology could be so overwhelming and so noble.

Leave Nobody Behind (Black Karma Remix) is perhaps my favourite cut on the album, and perhaps I’m betraying my prejudices here as it’s the track that seems to have the most guitary sound to it. Starting with a beautifully spitty synth line, it’s not long before the auto-rhythmic drum loop kicks in, aided and abetted by what may or may not be, gulp, real guitars! Whatever, the sound ably transported me back to long journeys to school, with a Walkman plugged into my brain, transmitting whatever tape had been traded or swapped that day. Stuttering, fluttering, Coil-esque vocals drone over the woody guitar (esque?) sound, and I just want it to go on…

Experimental Health is solely the work of The Telescopes’ main man Stephen Lawrie, and I absolutely love the fact that one person can create something so unusual at a point so far from the beginning of their career, something that has echoes of their previous work, yet offers something different. The self-imposed restrictions on, or choice of instrumentation, used by Lawrie have opened up some interesting and creative pathways of sound, pathways that aren’t at all stretched thinly over the course of an album.

Lyrically, I’ve little idea what the themes of Experimental Health are, I’ve found myself caught up and engulfed in the sound each time I’ve listened to it, and once again, being offered the chance by The Shaman to review something a little left-field, has resulted in a find akin to a rare gem.

This is going straight in the end-of-year Top Ten.

Label: Cold Spring Records
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Scribed by: George Green