Listening to A Correction conjures up a bizarre metaphor in this reviewer’s imagination: imagine if you could somehow perform a series of techno songs whilst sitting or reclining or, even more implausibly, standing under several feet or snow, or just under the surface of a frozen lake; and that some kind soul had braved the cold to record said output from above the snow or ice. Impossible, I grant you, but there is something about Fieldhead’s latest album that feels like it wasn’t so much recorded whilst gazing at a snowy landscape as under it. As such, where others would have used the bleak surroundings of Paul Elam’s new Canadian home as an excuse to make overbearingly cold electronica, the music of a correction is a surprisingly warm, as if we, the listeners, are buried under that ice alongside him. But, almost paradoxically, also hearing it from afar. It’s a fine balancing act that Elam performs, between austerity and something more emotionally engaging, and he mostly pulls it off.
On the surface, the nine short tracks that make up this brief album can seem like mildly unsettled ambient adumbrations, but any listen with headphones to the five-minute title track or the haunting centrepiece ‘neon, ugly’ reveals intricacies that emerge like vapours from thermal springs. Textures are intangible, fleeting, and a sustained listen to most tracks on a correction is coated in haze, not of the hypnagogic, eyes-fixed-on-the-past variety, but rather a sense of profound isolation in a beautifully unforgiving sonic environment. However, on ‘a correction’, the track, gleaming synth arpeggios and wispy textures combine with gentle, loping beats to create a subdued form of post-dancefloor momentum, with a moody seductiveness that is thoroughly absorbing. Close musical cousins would be the more electronic works of Leyland Kirby, WIlliam Basinski or, above all, Ezekiel Honig, and there’s a similar sense of muted melancholia as can be found on those luminaries’ albums throughout. ‘neon, ugly’ is even more rhythmic, although such a word seems ill-fitted to a correction. The nebulous beats are here supplemented by a ghostly choir and a stop-start rhythm clearly lifted from the techno stylings of The Field, albeit now submerged under snowy synth melodies and fuzzy crackle. If Burial was making his fragmented take on dubstep on the edge of the North Pole, it might sound not too far from ‘neon, ugly’. I bet the parties are a blast up there.
A Correction continues the excellent Gizeh Records’ focus on cold ambience in the wake of Richard Knox and Frederic D. Overland’s The Rustle of the Stars. And whilst it may not quite reach the conceptual heights of that album or the more experimental delights of Thomas Koener’s Zovaya Zemlya, Elam’s blend of icy textures and unexpected warm undercurrents is subtly beguiling and effortlessly affecting.