Phil Tomsett: Broken Memory Machine
Fluid Audio

It's always interesting to ponder why exactly an artist who's issued material under an alias suddenly decides to release an album under his/her birth name. Is it a matter of newfound confidence that bolsters the creator's desire to pull back the curtain and lay claim to the work? Might it simply be the result of a waning interest in the pseudonym or the wish for the latest material to be broached on its own terms minus whatever baggage the alias has accrued? Only Phil Tomsett knows why he opted to release Broken Memory Machine under his own name rather than his established The Inventors of Aircraft moniker, a project that for whatever reason is currently on hiatus.

As per usual for Fluid Audio releases, Tomsett's album is given the deluxe treatment in its physical presentation: issued in a limited 150-copy edition, the CD release is complemented by letterpressed covers, vintage maps, tags, and other elements. Mastered with exquisite attention to detail by Rafael Anton Irissarri, the album adheres to the experimental ambient-modern classical style associated with Fluid Audio. A theme runs loosely through the forty-nine-minute work that has to do with loss, both of family and home; specifically, the text that accompanies the release refers to “an orphaned brother and sister [who] search for sanctuary on the roads of a broken British landscape,” and a narrative of sorts also can be gleaned from the ten song titles.

On sonic grounds, Tomsett's material is remarkably rich in texture and, despite being wholly instrumental, powerfully evocative. A sense of loneliness pervades “The Long Quiet Highway” in the way its brittle electronic tones stretch out, perhaps purposefully designed to simulate the electrical wires that hum above as a foot journey is undertaken; in addition, plaintive string tones amplify the feeling of melancholy at the same time as percussive accents suggest the groan of decrepit farm machinery tentatively operating in the fields alongside the country roads. The harmonium-like surges within “Midnight Furnace” convincingly suggest the workings of an old heating apparatus, while descending tones allude to the passing of low-flying planes. Field recordings occasionally work their way into the presentation, most noticeably at the beginning of “And Wandering Livestock” where mooing cows are audible.

Though some passages are bleak and lugubrious (the stark “I Dug This Hole Myself”), others are more hopeful (the ruminative, strings-drenched “Chasing Cloud Shadows”). In merging the acoustic and digital realms, Tomsett's blend of classical (strings, organ) and electronic elements (the beat patterns most conspicuously) makes for a rewarding combination, especially when the long-standing romanticism associated with the former is offset by the comparatively colder timbres of the latter. Think of Broken Memory Machine as a compelling fusion of ambient, classical, and electronica.

September 2015