Sketches for Albinos: Fireworks and the Dead City Radio

No one can accuse Edinburgh-based sound artist Matthew Collings of laziness. In 2013, he issued the solo album Splintered Instruments, partnered with fellow Graveyard Tapes member Euan McMeeken on the Lost Tribe Sound album Our Sound Is Our Wound, and now follows up his 2010 Sketches for Albino release Days of Being Wild and Kind (issued on the Japanese label Nothing 66) with the new collection Fireworks and the Dead City Radio.

Six years in the making, it's an elaborately presented release—more mini-album than full-length—that pairs twenty-seven minutes of music with a twelve-inch vinyl photobook. With pieces that are more like experimental collages than conventional songs, Fireworks and the Dead City Radio sets forth its wide-eyed agenda with the opening track “I Have So Many Things I've Always Wanted.” Starting out on a wave of jangly rambunction, the music, a restless swirl of rapid acoustic guitar strums, chiming pianos, and smudged vocals, shape-shifts as it pushes on through eight pieces, each one a fleeting snapshot of Collings' feverish imagination. Distorted voice samples, some decipherable and others not, are strewn across the slippery surfaces of his dense constructions, with blurred strings, guitars (acoustic and electric), and an occasional beat pattern providing some fragile degree of instrumental stability. In a representative piece such as “The Sailor in the City Is Buying Up Time,” a water-logged piano sings a melancholy tune alongside a woman's speaking voice and the sounds of some indeterminate workshop activity. Elsewhere, fuzzy guitars and drums roar with punk rock spirit during “She Drew a Pentagon On Fire,” while the bruising closer “Piani Fingers” crackles and simmers like some exploding star—fireworks indeed.

Though individual tracks are presented, the recording plays more like a singular psychedelic whole of kaleidoscopic design. Genealogical antecedents to Fireworks and the Dead City Radio might include The Beatles' “Tomorrow Never Knows” as well as Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd material like “See Emily Play,” even if Collings takes the trippy character of those songs to a generally higher and more experimental level. Though twenty-seven minutes of music is a modest amount, in this case the listener doesn't feel shortchanged when the music is so action-packed and flush with detail.

March 2014